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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Máiría Cahill Elected to Seanad Éireann

mairia-cahillMáiría Cahill is elected to Seanad Éireann on November 13, 2015 after winning a by-election held to fill the seat left vacant after the resignation of the Labour Party‘s Jimmy Harte. She wins 122 of the 188 valid votes cast in an election in which only Teachta Dálas (TDs) and Senators can cast a vote.

Cahill is born in 1981 into a prominent republican extended family in West Belfast. Her great-uncle Joe Cahill is one of the founders and chief of staff of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the 1970s. She is a cousin of both Siobhán O’Hanlon, a prominent republican activist in the IRA and later in Sinn Féin until her death in 2006, and her sister Eilis O’Hanlon, a political commentator for the Irish Independent and critic of both the IRA and Sinn Féin. She also claims her grandfather recruited Gerry Adams into the IRA.

Cahill is elected National Secretary of Ógra Shinn Féin and works for Sinn Féin between 1998 and 2001. She quits Sinn Féin in 2001 when she moves to the United States. She later returns and works on two election campaigns for the party before growing disillusioned at her treatment and leaving for good.

In February 2015, Cahill receives a James Larkin Thirst for Justice award from the Irish Labour Party. In November 2015, she receives a Special Recognition Award in the Irish Tatler‘s Woman of the Year Awards.

In October 2015, Labour Party leader Joan Burton announces Cahill has joined the party and she, along with her deputy Alan Kelly, will put her forward as the party’s nominee in a by-election to Seanad Éireann’s Industrial and Commercial Panel. The by-election has been occasioned by the resignation of Senator Jimmy Harte due to illness. Cahill secures the party’s nomination unopposed and wins the election in November 13 on the first count, with 122 first preferences out of 188 valid votes from Oireachtas members.

Cahill is criticised by Senator David Norris for failing to satisfactorily answer questions on her links to dissident republican groups and for failing to take part in media debates with other candidates. Norris later states that she is “an interesting and vital voice in Seanad Éireann.”

In a March 2016 interview with Catherine Shanahan of the Irish Examiner, Kathleen Lynch, a former Labour party TD and Minister of state, states she has no idea as to why Cahill was chosen as the party’s by-election candidate. Cahill does not contest the 2016 Seanad elections.

Cahill is co-opted into a Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) council seat in Lisburn and Castlereagh council in July 2018. She has to withdraw from the local election campaign in April 2019, due to a law requiring candidates to publish their home addresses. Cahill is unable to do so due to threats made against her. The British Government subsequently apologises.