seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Democratic Left Merges with the Labour Party

After months of negotiations and two special delegate conferences, Democratic Left merges with the Labour Party on January 24, 1999.

Democratic Left is formed after a split in the Workers’ Party of Ireland, which in turn has its origins in the 1970 split in Sinn Féin and, after seven years in existence, it is incorporated into the Labour Party in 1999. Although never formally styled as a communist party, the Workers’ Party has an internal organisation based on democratic centralism, strong links with the Soviet Union, and campaigns for socialist policies. However between 1989 and 1992 the Workers’ Party is beset by a number of problems.

On February 15, 1992, a special conference is held in Dún Laoghaire to reconstitute the party. A motion proposed by Proinsias De Rossa and general secretary Des Geraghty seek to stand down the existing membership, elect an 11-member provisional executive council and make several other significant changes in party structures but it is defeated by nine votes.

After the conference it is clear a split is inevitable. At an Ard Chomhairle meeting held on February 22, 1992 in Wynn’s Hotel in Dublin, six of the party’s TDs resign from the party along with more than half of the Ard Chomhairle. The new breakaway party is provisionally named New Agenda with De Rossa becoming leader of the party.

In the 1997 Irish general election Democratic Left loses two of its six seats, both of its by-election victors, Eric Byrne in Dublin South-Central and Kathleen Lynch in Cork North-Central, being unseated. The party wins 2.5% of the vote. The party also is in significant financial debt because of a lack of access to public funds, due to its size. Between 1998 and 1999 the party enters discussions with the Labour Party which culminates in the parties’ merger in 1999, keeping the name of the larger partner but excluding members in Northern Ireland from organising. This leaves Gerry Cullen, their councillor in Dungannon Borough Council, in a state of limbo, representing a party for whom he can no longer seek election.

The launch of the merged party is in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin on January 24, 1999. Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn remains leader of the unified party, while De Rossa takes up the largely titular position of party president. Only 10% of Democratic Left delegates at the special conference had voted against the merger. De Rossa successfully contests the 1999 European Parliament election in Dublin. He holds his Dáil seat until he stands down at the 2002 Irish general election. He holds his European Parliament seat in the 2004 election and 2009 election.

In 2002, former Democratic Left TDs Pat Rabbitte and Liz McManus are elected as Labour Party leader and deputy leader respectively. When Rabbite steps down as Labour leader after the 2007 Irish general election, Eamon Gilmore is elected unopposed as his successor.

The party archives are donated to the National Library of Ireland by the Labour Party in 2014. The records can be accessed by means of the call number: MS 49,807.


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Birth of Pat Rabbitte, Labour Party Politician

pat-rabbittePatrick Brendan Rabbitte, former Labour Party politician, is born near Claremorris, County Mayo on May 18, 1949. He serves as Minister of State for Commerce, Science and Technology from 1994 to 1997, Leader of the Labour Party from 2002 to 2007 and Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources from 2011 to 2014. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin South-West constituency from 1989 to 2016.

Rabbitte is raised in Woodstock, Ballindine, County Mayo. He is educated locally at St. Colman’s College, Claremorris before emigrating to Britain to find employment. He returns shortly afterward to attend University College Galway (UCG) where he studies Arts and Law.

Rabbitte becomes involved in electoral politics for the first time in late 1982, when he unsuccessfully contests Dublin South-West for the Workers’ Party (WP) at the November general election. He is elected to Dublin County Council in 1985. He enters Dáil Éireann as a Workers’ Party Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin South-West at the 1989 election. He retains his seat at every election until 2016.

After Tomás Mac Giolla‘s retirement as President of the Workers’ Party in 1988, Rabbitte is seen as one of those who wants to move the party away from its hard left position. In 1992, he plays a prominent role with Proinsias De Rossa in an attempt to jettison some of the party’s more hard left positions. This eventually splits the Workers’ Party.

In 1994, a new ‘Rainbow Coalition’ government of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Democratic Left comes to power. Rabbitte is a member of the junior ministerial team, serving as Minister of State to the Government, as well as Minister for State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment with responsibility for Commerce, Science and Technology.

Following the 1997 general election the Rainbow Coalition loses power. The following year sees a merger between the Labour Party and Democratic Left, with Rabbitte participating in the negotiations. In October 2002 he succeeds Ruairi Quinn as the new leader of the Labour Party. Under his leadership the party makes some gains in the local elections of 2004.

The Labour Party agrees to enter a pre-election pact, commonly known as ‘The Mullingar Accord,’ with Fine Gael in an attempt to offer the electorate an alternative coalition government at the 2007 general election. This move causes some tension in the parliamentary party, as some members prefer not to be aligned with any party in advance of an election.

Following the disappointing result in the election for Labour, Rabbitte announces he is stepping down as leader on August 23, 2007. He is succeeded as party leader by Eamon Gilmore. Rabbitte is re-elected on the first count in the 2011 general election. His running mate Eamonn Maloney is also elected. On March 9, 2011, he is appointed as Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

In July 2014, Rabbitte is replaced by Alex White as part of a reshuffle of the cabinet. He does not contest the 2016 general election.