The Labour Party (Irish: Páirtí an Lucht Oibre) is a social-democratic political party in the Republic of Ireland. The Labour Party was founded in 1912 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, by James Connolly, James Larkin and William X. O'Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress. Unlike the other main Irish political parties, Labour does not trace its origins to the original Sinn Féin. In the 2011 general election it gained 37 of the 166 seats in Dáil Éireann, almost double its total of 20 in the 2007 election, making it the second largest political party in the 31st Dáil. The Labour Party has served in government for a total of nineteen years, six times in coalition either with Fine Gael alone or with Fine Gael and other smaller parties, and once with Fianna Fáil, giving it the second-longest time in government of Irish parties, next to Fianna Fáil. As of 9 March 2011 it is the junior partner in a in a coalition with Fine Gael for the period of the 31st Dáil. The current party leader is Eamon Gilmore, elected in October 2007 alongside Joan Burton as deputy leader. Gilmore is the current Tánaiste.
The Labour Party is a member of the Socialist International and the Party of European Socialists, whilst the party's MEPs sit in the European Parliament group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. The party has close ties with the Social Democratic and Labour Party in Northern Ireland.
In 1914, James Connolly, James Larkin and William X. O'Brien established the Irish Labour Party as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress. This party would 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. 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 X. O'Brien became the dominant figure in the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union 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 out of the Dáil Éireann during the vital years of the independence struggle, though Johnson sat in the First Dáil.
In the Irish Free State:
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 Brendan Corish) were members of the Knights of Saint Columbanus.
The split with National Labour and the first coalition governments:
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 6 TDs and founded the National Labour Party. James Everett was the leader of National Labour Party. O'Brien also withdrew the 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 election National Labour had 5 TDs - James 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, the leader of National Labour became Minister of Posts and Telegraphs. In 1950, the National Labour TDs rejoined the Labour Party.
From 1948-1951 and from 1954-1957 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.
Re-establishment in Northern Ireland:
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, 1960-1977:
In 1960 Brendan Corish became the new Labour Party leader. As leader he advocated and introduced more socialist policies to the party. 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 70's and 1980s: Coalition, internal feuding, electoral decline and regrowth:
In 1977 shortly after the election defeat members grouped around the Liaison Committee for the Labour Left split 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. It's 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 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 involvement:
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 been expelled 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 Rainbow Coalition. Dick Spring of the Labour Party became Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs again.
Merger with Democratic Left and recent electoral performance:
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 failed to retain some of its Dáil seats. A poor performance 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 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 aftermathSocial democracy:
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 TD's, 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 Fein), 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, Pat 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 elections:
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 general election and aftermath:
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. Since 9 March 2011, it is the junior partner in a in a coalition with Fine Gael for the period of the 31st Dáil. Party leader, Eamon Gilmore is the current Tánaiste.
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 constitutional changes mean that in future, affiliated unions will send delegations based on the number of party members in their organisation.