Democratic Left (Ireland)

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Democratic Left was a left political party active primarily in the Republic of Ireland, but also in Northern Ireland between 1992 and 1999. It came into being after a split with 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 between Official Sinn Féin and Provisional Sinn Féin. A large minority of the Workers Party left the party in 1992 after their attempt to amend its constitution (to break all links with the Official IRA and modernise the party's Leninist structures) 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 (the lower house of the Oireachtas or Irish parliament). The new party they established 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 Northern Irish constituencies and polled 2,133 votes. The election was fought under the "New Agenda" label.

In the 1992 Irish general election the party lost two of its six Dáil seats, gaining 2.8% of the vote compared to 5% for the pre-split Workers Party in the preceding general election. It subsequently won two seats in by-elections.

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, gaining 2.5% of the vote. In 1999, the Democratic Left merged with the Labour Party. Labour Party leader Ruairí 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 2002, but did not stand for reelection that year. He successfully held his European Parliament seat in 2004.

In 2002, the former Democratic Left TDs Pat Rabbitte and Liz McManus were elected as Labour Party leader and deputy leader respectively. Of the 20 Labour Party TDs currently in the Dáil, 6 (Pat Rabbitte, Liz McManus, Ciaran Lynch, Sean Sherlock, Eamon Gilmore and Kathleen Lynch) are former members of the Democratic Left. When Rabbite stepped down as Labour leader after the 2007 general election, Gilmore was elected unopposed as his successor.[1]



  1. Irish Independent, "Gilmore confirmed as new leader of Labour Party," 06 September 2007, accessed 10 November 2007.