Labour Party (Ireland)
The Labour Party (Irish: Páirtí an Lucht Oibre) is a social-democratic political party in the Republic of Ireland. Founded in 1912 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, by James Connolly, James Larkin and William O'Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress, it describes itself as a "democratic socialist party" in its constitution. Labour continues to be the political arm of the Irish trade union and labour movement and seeks to represent workers interests in the Dáil and on a local level.
|Leader||Brendan Howlin TD|
|Seanad Leader||Senator Ivana Bacik|
|Parliamentary Party Chairperson||Willie Penrose TD|
|General Secretary||Brian McDowell|
|Headquarters||11 Hume Street, Dublin 2, D02 T889, Ireland|
|Youth wing||Labour Youth|
|Women's wing||Labour Women|
|Political position||Centre to centre-left|
|European affiliation||Party of European Socialists|
|International affiliation||Progressive Alliance,
|European Parliament group||Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats|
7 / 158
5 / 60
0 / 11
50 / 949
Unlike the other main Irish political parties, Labour did not arise as a faction of the original Sinn Féin party (although it did incorporate the Democratic Left in 1999, a party which did trace its origins back to Sinn Féin). The party has served as a junior partner in coalition governments on seven occasions since its formation: six times in coalition either with Fine Gael alone or with Fine Gael and other smaller parties, and once with Fianna Fáil. This gives Labour a cumulative total of nineteen years served as part of a government, the second-longest total of any party in the Republic of Ireland after Fianna Fáil. The current party leader is Brendan Howlin. It is currently the fourth largest party in Dáil Éireann, with seven seats.
In 1912 James Connolly, James Larkin and William O'Brien established the Irish Labour Party as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress. This party was to represent the workers in the expected Dublin Parliament under the Third Home Rule Act 1914. However, after the defeat of the trade unions in the Dublin Lockout of 1913 the labour movement was weakened, and the emigration of James Larkin in 1914 and the execution of James Connolly following the Easter Rising in 1916 further damaged it.
The Irish Citizen Army (ICA), formed during the 1913 Lockout, was informally the military wing of the Labour Movement. The ICA took part in the 1916 Rising. Councillor Richard O'Carroll, a Labour Party member of Dublin Corporation, was the only elected representative to be killed during the Easter Rising. O'Carroll was shot and died several days later on 5 May 1916. The ICA was revived during Peadar O'Donnell's Republican Congress but after the 1935 split in the Congress most ICA members joined the Labour Party.
The British Labour Party had previously organised in Ireland, but in 1913 the Labour NEC agreed that the Irish Labour Party would have organising rights over the entirety of Ireland. A group of trade unionists in Belfast objected and the Belfast Labour Party, which later became the nucleus of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, remained outside the new Irish party.
In Larkin's absence, William O'Brien became the dominant figure in the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU) and wielded considerable influence in the Labour Party. O'Brien also dominated the Irish Trade Union Congress. The Labour Party, led by Thomas Johnson from 1917, as successor to such organisations as D. D. Sheehan's (independent Labour MPs) Irish Land and Labour Association, declined to contest the 1918 general election, in order to allow the election to take the form of a plebiscite on Ireland's constitutional status (although some candidates did run in Belfast constituencies under the Labour banner against Unionist candidates). It also refrained from contesting the 1921 elections. As a result, the party was left outside Dáil Éireann during the vital years of the independence struggle, though Johnson sat in the First Dáil.
In the Irish Free StateEdit
The Anglo-Irish Treaty divided the Labour Party. Some members sided with the Irregulars in the Irish Civil War that quickly followed. O'Brien and Johnson encouraged its members to support the Treaty. In the 1922 general election the party won 17 seats. However, there were a number of strikes during the first year and a loss in support for the party. In the 1923 general election the Labour Party only won 14 seats. From 1922 until Fianna Fáil TDs took their seats in 1927, the Labour Party was the major opposition party in the Dáil. Labour attacked the lack of social reform by the Cumann na nGaedheal government.
In 1923 Larkin returned to Ireland. He hoped to take over the leadership role he had left, but O'Brien resisted him. Larkin sided with the more radical elements of the party and in September that year he established the Irish Worker League.
In 1932 the Labour Party supported Éamon de Valera's first Fianna Fáil government, which had proposed a programme of social reform with which the party was in sympathy. In the 1940s it looked for a while as if the Labour Party would replace Fine Gael as the main opposition party. In the 1943 general election the party won 17 seats, its best result since 1927.
The party was socially conservative compared to similar European parties, and its leaders from 1932 to 1977 (William Norton and his successor Brendan Corish) were members of the Knights of Saint Columbanus.
The split with National Labour and the first coalition governmentsEdit
The Larkin-O'Brien feud still continued, and worsened over time. In the 1940s the hatred caused a split in the Labour Party and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. In 1944 O'Brien left with six TDs and founded the National Labour Party, whose leader was James Everett. O'Brien also withdrew ITGWU from the Irish Trade Unions Congress and set up his own congress. The split damaged the Labour movement in the 1944 general election. It was only after Larkin's death in 1947 that an attempt at unity could be made.
After the 1948 general election National Labour had five TDs – Everett, Dan Spring, James Pattison, James Hickey and John O'Leary. National Labour and Labour (with 14 TDs) both entered the first inter-party government, with the leader of National Labour becoming Minister of Posts and Telegraphs. In 1950 the National Labour TDs rejoined the Labour Party.
From 1948 to 1951 and from 1954 to 1957 the Labour Party was the second-largest partner in the two inter-party governments. William Norton, the Labour Party leader, became Tánaiste on both occasions. During the first inter-party government he served as Minister for Social Welfare, while during the second inter-party government he served as Minister for Industry and Commerce. See First Inter-Party Government and Second Inter-Party Government.
Re-establishment in Northern IrelandEdit
During this period the party stood for elections in Northern Ireland, after a split in the Northern Ireland Labour Party when Paddy Devlin helped re-establish the party in Belfast, the party did win seats in the Westminster Parliament (Jack Beattie MP for West Belfast 1951) and Stormont Parliament in the Belfast area as well as in district council elections (Falls, Belfast City Council by election 1956, Gerry Fitt 1958 Council Elections). Activity declined greatly after Gerry Fitt, then the party's sole Stormont MP, left the party to form the Republican Labour Party in 1964, with the party's last known contest being two seats on Newry and Mourne District Council at the 1973 local elections.
Under Brendan Corish, 1960–77Edit
In 1960 Brendan Corish became the new Labour Party leader. As leader he advocated and introduced more socialist policies to the party. In 1972 the party campaigned against membership of the European Economic Community (EEC). Between 1973 and 1977 the Labour Party formed a coalition government with Fine Gael. The coalition partners lost the subsequent 1977 general election. Corish resigned immediately after the defeat.
Late 1970s and 1980s: Coalition, internal feuding, electoral decline and regrowthEdit
In 1977, shortly after the election defeat, members grouped around the Liaison Committee for the Labour Left split from Labour and formed the short-lived Socialist Labour Party. From 1981 to 1982 and from 1982 to 1987, the Labour Party participated in coalition governments with Fine Gael. In the later part of the second of these coalition terms, the country's poor economic and fiscal situation required strict curtailing of government spending, and the Labour Party bore much of the blame for unpopular cutbacks in health and other public services. The nadir for the Labour party was the 1987 general election where it received only 6.4% of the vote. Its vote was increasingly threatened by the growth of the Marxist and more radical Workers' Party, particularly in Dublin. Fianna Fáil formed a minority government from 1987 to 1989 and then a coalition with the Progressive Democrats.
The 1980s saw fierce disagreements between the left and right wings of the party. The more radical elements, led by figures including Emmet Stagg and Joe Higgins, opposed the idea of Labour entering into coalition government with either of the major centre-right parties (Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael). At the 1989 Labour Party conference in Tralee a number of socialist and Trotskyist activists, organised around the Militant Tendency and their internal newspaper, were expelled. These expulsions continued during the early 1990s and those expelled, including Joe Higgins, went on to found the Socialist Party.
1990s: Growing political influence and involvementEdit
In 1990 Mary Robinson became the first President of Ireland to have been proposed by the Labour Party, although she contested the election as an independent candidate, she had resigned from the party over her opposition to the Anglo Irish Agreement. Not only was it the first time a woman held the office but it was the first time, apart from Douglas Hyde, that a non-Fianna Fáil candidate was elected. In 1990 Limerick East TD Jim Kemmy's Democratic Socialist Party merged into the Labour Party, and in 1992 Sligo–Leitrim TD Declan Bree's Independent Socialist Party also joined the Labour Party (in May 2007 Declan Bree resigned from the Labour Party over differences with the Leadership).)
At the 1992 general election the Labour Party won a record 19.3% of the first preference votes, more than twice its share in the 1989 general election. The party's representation in the Dáil doubled to 33 seats and, after a period of negotiations, the Labour Party formed a coalition with Fianna Fáil, taking office in January 1993 as the 23rd Government of Ireland. Fianna Fáil leader Albert Reynolds remained as Taoiseach, and Labour Party leader Dick Spring became Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs.
After less than two years the government fell in a controversy over the appointment of Attorney General, Harry Whelehan, as president of the High Court. The parliamentary arithmetic had changed as a result of Fianna Fáil's loss of two seats in by-elections in June, where the Labour Party itself had performed disastrously. On the pretext that the Labour Party voters were not happy with involvement with Fianna Fáil, Dick Spring withdrew his support for Reynolds as Taoiseach. The Labour Party negotiated a new coalition, the first time in Irish political history that one coalition replaced another without a general election. Between 1994 and 1997 Fine Gael, the Labour Party, and Democratic Left governed in the 24th Government of Ireland. Dick Spring became Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs again.
Merger with Democratic LeftEdit
The Labour Party presented the 1997 general election, held just weeks after spectacular electoral victories for the French Socialist Party and British Labour Party, as the first-ever choice between a government of the left and one of the right; but the party, as had often been the case following its participation in coalitions, lost support and lost half of its TDs. Labour's losses were so severe that while Fine Gael gained seats, it still came up well short of the support it needed to keep Bruton in office. This, combined with a poor showing by Labour Party candidate Adi Roche in the subsequent election for President of Ireland, led to Spring's resignation as party leader.
In 1997 Ruairi Quinn became the new Labour Party leader. Following negotiations in 1999 the Labour Party merged with Democratic Left, keeping the name of the larger partner. This had been previously opposed by the former leader Dick Spring. Members of Democratic Left in Northern Ireland were invited to join the Irish Labour Party but not permitted to organise. This left Gerry Cullen, their councillor in Dungannon Borough Council, in a state of limbo; he had been elected for a party he could no longer seek election for. 
The launch was held in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.
Quinn resigned as leader in 2002 following the poor results for the Labour Party in the 2002 general election. Former Democratic Left TD Pat Rabbitte became the new leader, the first to be elected directly by the members of the party.
In the 2004 elections to the European Parliament, Proinsias De Rossa retained his seat for the Labour Party in the Dublin constituency. This was the Labour Party's only success in the election. In the local elections held the same day, the Labour Party won over 100 county council seats, the first time ever in its history, and emerged as the largest party in Dublin city and Galway city.
2007 general election and aftermathEdit
Prior to the 2004 local elections, Party Leader Pat Rabbitte had endorsed a mutual transfer pact with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. Rabbitte proposed the extension of this strategy, named "the Mullingar Accord" after a meeting between Rabbitte and Kenny in the County Westmeath town, at the 2005 Labour Party National Conference.
Rabbitte's strategy was favoured by most TDs, notably Deputy Leader Liz McManus, Eamon Gilmore—who had proposed a different electoral strategy in the 2002 leadership election—and former opponent of coalition Emmet Stagg. Opposition to the strategy came from Brendan Howlin, Kathleen Lynch and Tommy Broughan (who is regarded as being on the party's left wing and who advocated closer co-operation with the Green Party and Sinn Féin), who opposed the boost that would be given to Fine Gael in such a strategy and stated their preference for an independent campaign. Outside the PLP, organised opposition to the pact came from Labour Youth and the ATGWU, who opposed the pact on political and tactical grounds. Nevertheless, the strategy proposed by Rabbitte was supported by approximately 80% of conference delegates.
In the 2007 general election the Labour Party failed to increase its seat total and had a net loss of 1 seat, returning with 20 seats. Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party and independents did not have enough seats to form a government. Pat Rabbitte resisted calls to enter negotiations with Fianna Fáil on forming a government. Eventually, Fianna Fáil entered government with the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party with the support of independents.
On 23 August 2007 Rabbitte resigned as Labour Party leader. He stated that he took responsibility for the outcome of the recent general election, in which his party failed to gain new seats and failed to replace the outgoing government.
On 6 September 2007 Eamon Gilmore was unanimously elected leader of the Labour Party, being the only nominee after Pat Rabbitte's resignation.
2009 local and European electionsEdit
At the local elections of 5 June 2009, the Labour Party added to its total of council seats, with 132 seats won (+31) and gained an additional two seats from councillors joining the party since the election. On Dublin City Council, the party was again the largest party, but now with more seats than the two other main parties combined. The Labour Party's status as the largest party on both Fingal and South Dublin councils was also improved by seat gains.
At the 2009 European Parliament election held on the same day, the Labour Party increased its number of seats from 1 to 3, retaining the seat of Proinsias De Rossa in the Dublin constituency, while gaining seats in the East constituency with Nessa Childers, and in the South constituency with Alan Kelly. This was the first time in history that Labour equalled the amount of seats held in Europe by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.
2011 Government and decline in supportEdit
On 11 June 2010, a poll by MRBI was published in The Irish Times which, for the first time in the history of the state, showed the Labour Party as the most popular, at 32%, ahead of Fine Gael at 28% and Fianna Fáil at 17%. Eamon Gilmore's approval ratings were also the highest of any Dáil leader, standing at 46%.
At the 2011 general election, Labour received 19.4% of first preference votes, and 37 seats. On 9 March 2011, it became the junior partner in a coalition government with Fine Gael for the period of the 31st Dáil. Eamon Gilmore was appointed as Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
In October 2011 the Labour Party's candidate, Michael D. Higgins was elected as the 9th President of Ireland. On the same day, Labour's Patrick Nulty won the Dublin West by-election, making the Labour Party the first government party in Ireland to win a by-election since 1982.
Labour lost seven parliamentary members over the course of the 31st Dáil. On 15 November 2011 Willie Penrose resigned over the closure of an army barracks in his constituency. On 1 December 2011 Tommy Broughan lost the party whip after voting against the government in relation to the Bank Guarantee Scheme. On 6 December 2011 Patrick Nulty lost the party whip after voting against the VAT increase in the 2012 budget. On 26 September 2012 Róisín Shortall resigned as Minister of State for Primary Care and lost the party whip after conflict with the Minister for Health James Reilly. On 13 December 2012 Colm Keaveney lost the party whip after voting against the cut to the respite care grant in the 2013 budget. Senator James Heffernan lost the party whip in December 2012 after voting against the government on the Social Welfare Bill. MEP Nessa Childers resigned from the parliamentary party on 5 April 2013, saying that she "no longer want[ed] to support a Government that is actually hurting people", and she resigned from the party in July 2013. In June 2013, Patrick Nulty and Colm Keaveney resigned from the Labour Party. Willie Penrose returned to the parliamentary Labour Party in October 2013.
On 26 May 2014, Gilmore resigned as party leader after Labour's poor performance in the European and local elections. On 4 July 2014, Joan Burton won the leadership election, defeating Alex White by 78% to 22%. On her election, she said that the Labour Party "would focus on social repair, and govern more with the heart". Burton was the first woman to lead the Labour Party.
At the 2016 general election, Labour achieved a very poor result, gaining only 6.6% of first preference votes, and 7 seats. It was the worst general election in its history, with a loss of 30 seats.
On 20 May 2016, Brendan Howlin was elected unopposed as leader amidst some controversy. That arose from the fact that there was no contest for the leadership because none of his parliamentary colleagues were prepared to second the nomination of Alan Kelly. Howlin has stated his intention as leader is to bring Labour back into government, citing the lack of influence on policy from opposition. Howlin has supported Labour going into coalition with Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin as an alternative to returning to government with the more right leaning Fine Gael. He has denied any suggestions that Labour could lose any further support from their 2016 performance, stating "We're the oldest party in the state".
General election resultsEdit
|Election||Seats won||±||Position||First Pref votes||%||Government||Leader|
17 / 128
14 / 153
22 / 153
13 / 153
7 / 153
|6||3rd||98,286||7.7%||Opposition (supported FF Minority Gov't)||Thomas J. O'Connell|
8 / 153
|1||4th||79,221||5.7%||Opposition (supported FF Minority Gov't)||William Norton|
13 / 138
|5||3rd||135,758||10.3%||Opposition (supported FF Minority Gov't)||William Norton|
9 / 138
17 / 138
8 / 138
14 / 147
|6||3rd||115,073||8.7%||Coalition (FG-LP-CnP-CnT-NLP)||William Norton|
16 / 147
19 / 147
|3||3rd||161,034||12.1%||Coalition (FG-LP-CnT)||William Norton|
12 / 147
16 / 144
22 / 144
18 / 144
19 / 144
|1||3rd||184,656||13.7%||Coalition (FG-LP)||Brendan Corish|
17 / 148
15 / 166
|2||3rd||169,990||9.9%||Coalition (FG-LP)||Frank Cluskey|
15 / 166
16 / 166
|1||3rd||158,115||9.4%||Coalition (FG-LP)||Dick Spring|
12 / 166
15 / 166
33 / 166
Coalition (FG-LP-DL from 1994)
17 / 166
20 / 166
20 / 166
37 / 166
|17||2nd||431,796||19.5%||Coalition (FG-LP)||Eamon Gilmore|
7 / 158
The Labour Party is a membership organisation consisting of Labour (Dáil) constituency councils, affiliated trade unions and socialist societies. Members who are elected to parliamentary positions (Dáil, Seanad, European Parliament) form the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). The party's decision-making bodies on a national level formally include the Executive Board (formerly known as the National Executive Committee), Labour Party Conference and Central Council. The Executive Board has responsibility for organisation and finance, with the Central Council being responsible for policy formation – although in practice the Parliamentary leadership has the final say on policy. The Labour Party Conference debates motions put forward by branches, constituency councils, party members sections and affiliates. Motions set principles of policy and organisation but are not generally detailed policy statements.
For many years Labour held to a policy of not allowing residents of Northern Ireland to apply for membership, instead supporting the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). The National Conference approved the establishment of a Northern Ireland Members Forum but it has not agreed to contest elections there.
As a party with a constitutional commitment to democratic socialism founded by trade unions to represent the interests of working class people, Labour's link with unions has always been a defining characteristic of the party. Over time this link has come under increasing strain, with most craft based unions based in the public sector and Irish Congress of Trades Unions having disaffiliated since the 1950s. The remaining affiliated unions are primarily private sector general unions. Currently affiliated unions still send delegates to the National Conference in proportion to the size of their membership. Recent[when?] constitutional changes mean that in future, affiliated unions will send delegations based on the number of party members in their organisation.
Within the Labour Party there are different sections:
The Irish Labour Party constitution makes provision for both Trade Unions and Socialist Societies to affiliate to the party. There are currently eleven Trade Unions affiliated to the Party:
- Munster & District Graphical Society
- Irish Municipal Public and Civil Trade Union (IMPACT) Municipal Employees Division
- National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT)
- General, Municipal and Boilermakers' Union (GMB)
- Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU)
- Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFWAU)
- Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA)
- Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT)
Socialist Societies Affiliated to the Party:
- Labour Party Lawyers Group
- Association of Labour Teachers
- Labour Social Services Group
The following are the terms of office as party leader and as Tánaiste:
|Name||Period||Constituency||Years as Tánaiste (if applicable)|
|Thomas Johnson||1917–1927||Dublin County|
|Thomas J. O'Connell||1927–1932||Mayo South|
|William Norton||1932–1960||Kildare||1948–1951; 1954–57
(Government of the 13th Dáil and 15th Dáil)
(Government of the 20th Dáil)
|Frank Cluskey||1977–1981||Dublin South-Central|
|Michael O'Leary||1981–1982||Dublin North-Central||1981–Feb. 1982
(Government of the 22nd Dáil)
|Dick Spring||1982–1997||Kerry North||Nov. 1982–87; 1992–97
(Government of the 24th Dáil, 23rd Government of Ireland and 24th Government of Ireland)
|Ruairi Quinn||1997–2002||Dublin South-East|
|Pat Rabbitte||2002–2007||Dublin South-West|
|Eamon Gilmore||2007–2014||Dún Laoghaire||2011–14
(Government of the 31st Dáil)
|Joan Burton||2014–2016||Dublin West||2014–2016
(Government of the 31st Dáil)
|Barry Desmond||1982–89||Dún Laoghaire|
|Ruairi Quinn||1989–1997||Dublin South-East|
|Joan Burton||2007–2014||Dublin West|
|Alan Kelly||2014–2016||Tipperary North|
|Michael Ferris||1981–1989||Agricultural Panel|
|Jack Harte||1989–1993||Labour Panel|
|Jan O'Sullivan||1993–1997||Administrative Panel|
|Joe Costello||1997–2002||Administrative Panel|
|Brendan Ryan||2002–2007||National University of Ireland|
|Alex White||2007–2011||Cultural and Educational Panel|
|Phil Prendergast||2011 (acting)||Labour Panel|
|Ivana Bacik||2011–present||University of Dublin|
TDs and SenatorsEdit
The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) is the section of the party that is made up of its members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and of the European Parliament. As of May 2016 there 12 members of the PLP: 7 TDs and 5 Senators.
At the 2014 local elections Labour lost more than half of local authority seats; 51 councillors were elected - this result led to the resignation of party leader, Eamon Gilmore.
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