Democratic Left (Ireland)

Democratic Left (Ireland)
Democratic Left
Leader Proinsias De Rossa
Founded 1992 (1992)
Dissolved 1999 (1999)
Split from Workers' Party
Merged into Labour Party
Ideology Democratic Socialism
Political position Left-wing
European Parliament Group European United Left
Politics of the Republic of Ireland
Political parties

Democratic Left was a democratic socialist political party active in Ireland between 1992 and 1999. It came into being after a split in the Workers' Party and, after just seven years in existence, it merged into the Irish Labour Party.



Democratic Left was formed after a split in the Workers' Party, which in turn had its origins in the 1970 split in Sinn Féin. The reasons for the split were twofold. Firstly, a faction led by Proinsias De Rossa[1] wanted to move the party towards an acceptance of free market economics. Following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe they felt that the Workers' Party's Marxist stance was now an obstacle to winning support at the polls. Secondly, media accusations[2] had once again surfaced regarding the continued existence of the Official IRA who it was alleged remained armed and were involved in fund-raising robberies, money laundering and other forms of criminality. The majority (or at least a large minority, depending on accounts) of the Workers' Party left the party in 1992 after their attempt to amend its constitution (to break all alleged links with the Official IRA and replace its democratic centralist structures with parliamentarism) fell just short of the required two-thirds majority at a special congress. The members who left included the party leader Proinsias De Rossa and five more of the party's seven members of Dáil Éireann (Pat Rabbitte, Eamon Gilmore, Eric Byrne, Pat McCartan and Joe Sherlock). The party's President for most of the previous 30 years, Tomás Mac Giolla refused to join the breakaway and remained with the Workers' Party although he had reluctantly[3] supported the constitutional amendments. The new party was provisionally named New Agenda until its founding conference adopted the name Democratic Left. Proinsias De Rossa became leader of the new party.

Electoral history and participation in government

The party's first contest was the 1992 UK general election, in which it stood in two constituencies in Northern Ireland and polled 2,133 votes. The election was fought under the "New Agenda" label.

In the North the party contested elections in 1996 for the Northern Ireland Forum but with less than 1% of the vote they failed to have any members elected. On the foundation of the Party they did inherit a number of Councillors, Seamus Lynch lost his Belfast City Council seat in 1993, Gerry Cullen had been elected for the Workers' Party in 1989 in Dungannon Town and was re-elected in 1993 and 1997 local elections.[4][5]

In the 1992 Irish general election the party lost two of its six Dáil seats (Eric Byrne narrowly following a week of counting and recounting,[6] Pat McCartan and Joe Sherlock losing their seats, and Liz McManus winning a seat in Wicklow), gaining 2.8% of the vote compared to 5% for the pre-split Workers' Party in the preceding general election.

Joe Sherlock was elected on the Labour Panel to Seanad Éireann as part of a election pact with their politically polar opposites Progressive Democrats.[7]

The party subsequently won two seats in by-elections, Eric Byrne regaining his seat in Dublin South Central[8] and Kathleen Lynch[9] in Cork North Central.

After the collapse of the Fianna Fáil-Labour Party coalition government in 1994, Democratic Left joined the new coalition government with Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Proinsias De Rossa served as Minister for Social Welfare, initiating Ireland's first national anti-poverty strategy.

Merger with Labour

In the 1997 general election Democratic Left lost two of its six seats, both of its by-election victors being unseated. The party won 2.5% of the vote. The party had also accrued significant financial debts. In 1999 Democratic Left merged with the Labour Party, keeping the name of the larger partner but excluding members in Northern Ireland from organising.[10] This left Gerry Cullen, their councillor in Dungannon Borough Council, in a state of limbo, representing a party for whom he could no longer seek election. The launch of the merged party was in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.[11] Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn became leader of the unified party, while De Rossa took up the largely titular position of party president. In 1999 De Rossa successfully contested the European Parliament election in Dublin. He held his Dáil seat until he stood down at the 2002 general election. He successfully held his European Parliament seat in the 2004 election and 2009 election

In 2002, the former Democratic Left TDs Pat Rabbitte and Liz McManus were elected as Labour Party leader and deputy leader respectively. Of the 38 Labour Party TDs currently in the Dáil, 6 (Pat Rabbitte, Ciarán Lynch, Seán Sherlock, Eamon Gilmore, Eric Byrne and Kathleen Lynch) are former members of the Democratic Left. The independent TD Catherine Murphy is also a former member. When Rabbite stepped down as Labour leader after the 2007 general election, Gilmore was elected unopposed as his successor.[12]


  1. ^ Proinsias De Rossa, ‘The case for a new departure Making Sense March-April 1992
  2. ^ BBC Spotlight programme, ‘Sticking to their guns’, June 1991
  3. ^ Patterns of Betrayal: the flight from Socialism, Workers Party pamphlet, Repsol Ltd, Dublin, May 1992
  4. ^ "The 1993 Local Government Elections in Northern Ireland,". Retrieved 2010-07-09. 
  5. ^ Northern Ireland and the Democratic Left Party, 1989-1999 – Ciaran McClean, New Hibernia Review (2003)
  6. ^ "Dublin South Central - Eric Byrne Election Snapshot RTE 2007". Retrieved 2010-07-09. [dead link]
  7. ^ Chapter 10 The Subterranean Election of the Seanad Michael Gallagher and Liam Weeks UCC
  8. ^ Dublin South Central 9 June 1994 (
  9. ^ Cork North Central by-election result 10 November 1994 (
  10. ^ Steven King on Thursday, Steven King, Belfast Telegraph, 17 December 1998
  11. ^ Liam O'Neill (25 January 1999). "Red rose shapes up to future". Irish Examiner. 
  12. ^ "Gilmore confirmed as new leader of Labour Party". Irish Independent. 6 September 2007. Retrieved 10 November 2007. 

See also

  • Category:Democratic Left (Ireland) politicians

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