Labour Party (Ireland)

Labour Party
Páirtí an Lucht Oibre
Leader Alan Kelly
Seanad Leader Rebecca Moynihan[1]
Parliamentary Party Chairperson Seán Sherlock
Chairperson Jack O'Connor
General Secretary Billie Sparks
Founded 28 May 1912; 109 years ago (28 May 1912)
Headquarters 2 Whitefriars, Aungier Street, Dublin 2, Ireland
Youth wing Labour Youth
Women's wing Labour Women
LGBT wing Labour LGBT
Membership (2020) 3,000[2]
Ideology Social democracy[3]
Political position Centre-left[4]
European affiliation Party of European Socialists
International affiliation
European Parliament group Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
Colours   Red
Anthem "The Red Flag"
Dáil Éireann
7 / 160
Seanad Éireann
4 / 60
Local government
56 / 949
Website Edit this at Wikidata

The Labour Party (Irish: Páirtí an Lucht Oibre, literally "Party of the Working People") is a centre-left,[5][6][7] social-democratic,[8][9] and pro-European[4] political party in the Republic of Ireland.[3] Founded on 28 May 1912 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, by James Connolly, James Larkin, and William O'Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trades Union Congress,[10] it describes itself as a "democratic socialist party" in its constitution.[11]

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. Unlike many other Irish political parties, Labour did not arise as a faction of the original Sinn Féin party, although it incorporated Democratic Left in 1999, a party that traced its origins back to Sinn Féin. The party has served as a partner in coalition governments on eight occasions since its formation: seven 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 twenty-five years served as part of a government, the third-longest total of any party in the Republic of Ireland after Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Led by Alan Kelly, the fifth-largest party in Dáil Éireann, with seven seats, and is the joint third-largest party in Seanad Éireann, with four seats, making Labour the fifth-largest party in the Oireachtas overall as of 2021. The Labour Party is a member of the Progressive Alliance,[12] Socialist International,[13] and Party of European Socialists (PES).[14]


Connolly, Larkin and O'Brien founded the party in 1912.


James Connolly, James Larkin and William O'Brien established the Irish Labour Party on 28 May 1912, as the political wing of the Irish Trades Union Congress.[15][16] This party was to represent the workers in the expected Dublin Parliament under the Third Home Rule Act 1914.[17] However, after the defeat of the trade unions in the Dublin Lockout of 1913 the labour movement was weakened; the emigration of James Larkin in 1914 and the execution of James Connolly following the Easter Rising in 1916 further damaged it.[citation needed]

The Irish Citizen Army (ICA), formed during the 1913 Lockout,[18] was informally the military wing of the Labour Movement. The ICA took part in the 1916 Rising.[19] Councillor Richard O'Carroll, a Labour Party member of Dublin Corporation, was the only serving elected representative to be killed during the Easter Rising. O'Carroll was shot by John Bowen-Colthurst and died several days later, on 5 May 1916.[20] 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.

Early history

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.[citation needed] O'Brien also dominated the Irish Trades Union Congress[citation needed]. The Labour Party, led by Thomas Johnson from 1917,[21] 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).[22] 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 State

The Anglo-Irish Treaty divided the Labour Party.[citation needed] Some members sided with the Irregulars in the Irish Civil War that quickly followed,[citation needed] however O'Brien and Johnson encouraged its members to support the Treaty. In the 1922 general election the party won 17 seats.[21] 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. From 1927, a large number of the Labour Party’s voters were pre-empted by Fianna Fáil, with its almost identical policies. Labour lacked Fianna Fáil’s ‘republican’ image, which was a contributing factor to this loss.[23]

Larkin returned to Ireland in April 1923.[24] He hoped to resume the leadership role in the ITGWU which he had previously left, but O'Brien resisted him. Larkin also created a pro-communist party called the Irish Worker League. O'Brien regarded Larkin as a "loose cannon." Following a failed challenge to O'Brien's leadership and association with communist militancy, Larkin was expelled from the ITGWU and created the WUI, a communist alternative to the ITGWU, in 1924. Two-thirds of the Dublin membership of the ITGWU defected to the new union. O'Brien blocked the WUI from admission to the ITUC. Larkin was elected to Dáil Éireann at the September 1927 general election. However, the Labour Party prevented him from taking his seat as an undischarged bankrupt for losing a libel case against Labour leader Tom Johnson.[25][26][27][28][29][30][31]

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.[citation needed] In the 1943 general election the party won 17 seats, its best result since 1927.[citation needed]

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.[32] Despite this, In the 1930s the Labour Party received adverse publicity and was accused of tacitly supporting Soviet Communism while the Irish Trades Union Congress was accused of circulating an article which proclaimed the Roman Catholic Church as an enemy of the workers. These were extremely negative accusations in an Ireland that was ardently anti-communist. William Norton wrote a letter to Pope Pius XII (then known as Cardinal Pacelli, Secretary of State at the Vatican), stating that "as a Catholic and the accepted leader of the Irish Labour Party, I desire most empathetically [sic?] to repudiate both statements." A pamphlet was produced, entitled Cemeteries of Liberty, which asserted that the Labour Party viewed both communism and fascism as "Cemeteries of Liberty".

In an article,[when?] the Rev. Dr. George Clune, at the suggestion of the Rev. Fr. Edward Cahill, stated in support of the Labour Party that "the Irish Labour Party never at any time construed the term 'A Workers' Republic' as meaning a Republic of the Russian sort. This phrase was evolved by Connolly more than forty years ago, long before the establishment of Russian Bolshevism. This term was used by him, and subsequently accepted by the Irish Labour Party to denote a republic within which working men would have family security as contra-distinguished from the Republics of France and America, which suffered from the excesses of Capitalism ... The Party does not stand for (nor did it ever stand) for the nationalisation of private property, but for the nationalisation of certain services such as transport and flour-milling. Hence, this comes within the pronouncements of Pope Pius XI."[33]

Split with National Labour and the first coalition governments

In 1944 James Everett lead a faction out of Labour and into a short-lived anti-communist splinter party until they reunited in 1950

Despite efforts in the 1930s to sternly downplay the idea of Communist influence over the party, by the 1940s internal conflict and complementary allegations of communist infiltration caused a split in the Labour Party and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Tensions peaked in 1941 when party founder Jim Larkin and a number of his supporters were re-admitted to the party and subsequently accused of "taking over" Labour branches in Dublin. In response William X. O'Brien left with six TDs in 1944, founding the National Labour Party, whose leader was James Everett. O'Brien also withdrew the ITGWU[34] from the Irish Trades Unions Congress and set up his own congress. The split damaged the Labour movement in the 1944 general election. The ITGWU attacked "Larkinite and Communist Party elements" which it claimed had taken over the Labour Party. The split and the anti-communist assault put Labour on the defensive. It launched its own inquiry into communist involvement, which resulted in the expulsion of six members. Alfred O'Rahilly in The Communist Front and the Attack on Irish Labour widened the assault to include the influence of British-based unions and communists in the ITUC. The National Labour Party juxtaposed itself against this by emphasising its commitment to Catholic Social Teaching. However, Labour also continued to emphasise its anti-communist credentials. It was only after Larkin's death in 1947 that an attempt at unity could be made.[35][36][37][38][39][40]

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 for 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 (the largest being Fine Gael). 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 Ireland

The Republic of Ireland Act 1948 and Ireland Act 1949 precipitated a split in the Northern Ireland Labour Party (NILP) with Jack Macgougan leading anti-Partition members out and affiliating branches to the Dublin party, joined by other left-wing and nationalist representatives and branded locally as "Irish Labour".[41] At Westminster, Jack Beattie held Belfast West from 1951 to 1955;[42] the British Labour party refused Beattie its whip.[43] At Stormont, Belfast Dock was won by Murtagh Morgan in 1953 and Paddy Devlin in 1962,[44] but Devlin in 1964 left for the Republican Labour Party and Irish Labour contested no further Westminster or Stormont elections.[41][45] In the 1949 local elections it won 7 seats on Belfast City Council, 6 (unopposed) on Armagh urban district council (UDC) and one on Dungannon UDC.[41] In Derry, the party collapsed when Stephen McGonagle left after 1952.[46] It was strongest in Warrenpoint and Newry UDCs, winning control of the former in 1949 and the latter in 1958, retaining seats in both until their 1973 abolition. Tommy Markey was expelled from the party in 1964 for taking a salute as Newry council chair from the Irish Guards.[47] Party branches still existed in Warrenpoint and Newry as late as 1982,[45] though candidates were heavily defeated in Newry and Mourne District Council at the 1973 local elections.[48] The Social Democratic and Labour Party founded in 1970 took most of Irish Labour's voters and soon had its formal endorsement.

Under Brendan Corish, 1960–1977

Brendan Corish became the new Labour leader in 1960. As leader, he advocated for more socialist policies to be adopted by the party; although initially tempering by this describing these policies as "a form of Christian socialism",[50] he would later feel comfortable enough to drop the "Christian" prefix. In contrast to his predecessors, Corish adopted an anti-coalition stance. He attempted to give his fractious, divided party a coherent national identity, lurched it to the left and insisted Labour was the natural party of social justice.[51] In the late 1960s, Labour began to embrace the ‘New Left,’ and Corish presented his A New Republic document at the 1967 Labour national conference, alongside a famous speech which declared that "The seventies will be socialist", which later became a Labour campaign slogan.[49] Corish's new socialist direction for Labour was generally well-received internally in the party; the membership's faith in Corish had already been bolstered by encouraging election results in 1965 and 1967.[52] However, there were a number of notable and vocal dissidents: Patrick Norton, Labour politician and son of former leader William ‘Bill’ Norton, accused the party of embracing “Cuban socialism” and left Labour in 1967, insisting it had been captured by “a small but vocal group of fellow travellers.” He joined Fianna Fáil.[53] Following further accusations of being sympathetic to communism ahead of the 1969 general election, Labour politician Brendan Halligan cited papal encyclicals, such as St. John XXIII’s Mater at Magistra to support Labour’s position. John O’Connell declared that in some respects Labour’s policies fell short of the standards of Pope John XIII and claimed that other Popes had advocated other policies like Labour’s document on workers’ democracy; if Labour was to be condemned as communist because of the policy document, he said that “we are content to stand condemned in the company of great Popes.”[54][55][56][57]

Despite Labour's hopeful expectations for a breakthrough, when the results of the 1969 Irish general election came in they were left sorely disappointed. Although their share of their vote had improved to 17%, the party's best share in 50 years, the party only won 17 seats, 5 less than what they had won in 1965 (having also put forward a previously unmatched multiplicity of candidates).[51] The result dented Corish's confidence and caused him to reconsider his anti-coalition stance.[51] Then Minister Charles Haughey, Fianna Fáil’s director of elections in 1969, had utilised a report completed by Conrad Jameson Associates to ensure that Labour did not win over the support of their voters. Haughey particularly enjoyed attacking the new breed of Labour politicians, accusing them of offering the electorate “a form of extreme socialism which was old hat and had failed everywhere it had been tried”. He also asked why the Irish people “should turn the clock back and adopt such socialism just to satisfy the whims of a small coterie of left-wing intellectuals. The Labour Party wants controls, regulation, regimentation. This is what extreme left-wing socialism means. It is a joyless, soul destroying, materialistic concept of life.”

In a final note to election organisers and every candidate in Dublin, Haughey stated that Fianna Fáil’s canvass showed that there were “deep divisions among former supporters of the Labour Party. Ordinary members in the constituencies were deeply suspicious and resentful of extreme left wing intellectuals who had been forced upon them from outside.” It was, he said “a battle between the party of Bill Norton and of those who wanted extreme socialism.” He urged every Fianna Fáil activist to stress the point that there were now two Labour parties, with left-wing extremists trying to take over the “traditional party.” This message proved to be brutally effective. In the aftermath of the election, cynics mocked the Labour Party and suggested that they should rephrase the party’s new slogan ‘The Seventies Will be Socialist’ as ‘The Socialists Will be Seventy’.[58]

Labour promoted a Eurosceptic outlook in the 1961 general election,[59] and in 1972, the party campaigned against membership of the European Economic Community (EEC).[60]

Between 1973 and 1977, the Labour Party formed a coalition government with Fine Gael. The coalition partners lost the subsequent 1977 general election, and Corish resigned immediately after the defeat.

Late 1970s 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 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 wings of the party. The more radical elements, Labour Left, led by such figures as Emmet Stagg, Sam Nolan, Frank Buckley and Helena Sheehan, and Militant Tendency, led by Joe Higgins, opposed the idea of Labour entering into coalition government with either of the major centre-right parties (Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael).[61][62] 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

The ascendancy of Mary Robinson to the Presidency of Ireland was heralded as a great victory for the Labour party

The early 1990s saw a sustained period of growth for the Labour Party. In 1990 former Labour Senator Mary Robinson became the first President of Ireland to have been proposed by the Labour Party. Although she had contested the election as an independent candidate, having resigned from the party over her opposition to the Anglo Irish Agreement, her victory was generally considered as reflecting very well on Labour, who had supported her campaign.[63] 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. It was also in 1990 that 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 followed suit and joined the Labour Party.

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 in a momentum swing dubbed by the Irish national media as the "Spring Tide", who attributed much of the surge in the party's popularity to its leader Dick Spring.[64] 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 Left

Logo of the Democratic Left
Proinsias De Rossa lead his faction out of the Workers' Party and into Democratic Left, and from Democratic Left into Labour.

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.[65] 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 were not permitted to organise.[66]

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.

Rabbitte as leader '02 to '07

Prior to the 2004 local elections, party leader Pat Rabbitte had endorsed a mutual transfer pact with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. Rabbitte proposed an extension of this strategy, named "the Mullingar Accord", going into the 2007 general election. Although Rabbitte's strategy was opposed by some influential members such as Brendan Howlin[67] it was supported by approximately 80% of Labour conference delegates. However, at 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. In the aftermath, Rabbitte resigned as Labour Party leader in late August, taking responsibility for the general election result. In his wake Eamon Gilmore was elected, unopposed, as the new Labour leader.

Gilmore as leader '07 to 2014

Eamon Gilmore lead the party for seven years between 2007 and 2014

Following the onset of the post-2008 Irish economic downturn, Labour's political fortunes began to alter rapidly. At the local elections of 5 June 2009, the Labour Party added 31 new councillors to their tally and performed particularly well in the Dublin region. At the 2009 European Parliament election held on the same day, the Labour Party increased its number of seats from one to three, 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. It was the first time since the 1979 European Parliament Elections that Labour had equalled the number of seats held in Europe by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.[68]

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%.[69]

At the 2011 general election, Labour received 19.5% of first preference votes, and 37 seats.[70] It was the most amount of seats the Labour party had ever won in the Dáil, and their highest percentage of first-preference-votes since the Spring Tide of 1992.[70] On 9 March 2011, it became the junior partner in a coalition government with Fine Gael for the period of the 31st Dáil.[71] 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.[72] On 1 December 2011 Tommy Broughan lost the party whip after voting against the government in relation to the Bank Guarantee Scheme.[73] On 6 December 2011 Patrick Nulty lost the party whip after voting against the VAT increase in the 2012 budget.[74] 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.[75] On 13 December 2012 Colm Keaveney lost the party whip after voting against the cut to the respite care grant in the 2013 budget.[76] Senator James Heffernan lost the party whip in December 2012 after voting against the government on the Social Welfare Bill.[77] 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",[78] and she resigned from the party in July 2013. In June 2013, Patrick Nulty and Colm Keaveney resigned from the Labour Party.[79] Willie Penrose returned to the parliamentary Labour Party in October 2013.[80]

Previous logos of the Labour Party
Logo of the Labour Party c. 2011
Logo of the Labour Party from 2016-2021

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%.[81] On her election, she said that the Labour Party "would focus on social repair, and govern more with the heart".[81] Burton was the first woman to lead the Labour Party.

In the 2016 general election, Labour achieved a poor result, receiving only 6.6% of first preference votes, and 7 seats.[82] It was the worst general election in its history, with a loss of 30 seats on its showing in 2011.[83]

Recent history

Alan Kelly has led the party since 2020

On 20 May 2016, Brendan Howlin was elected unopposed as leader; some controversy 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.[84] Howlin stated that as leader he was prepared to bring Labour back into government, citing the lack of influence on policy from opposition.[85] He denied any suggestions that Labour could lose any further support from their 2016 performance, stating "We’re not some outfit that comes out of the morning mist and disappears again. We're the oldest party in the state".[86]

In the Local and European Elections of May 2019, despite a decreased vote share by 1.4%, Labour increased their seat count on local authorities to 57, an increase of 6. This maintained Labour's position as the country's 4th-largest party at local government level. However, the party failed to win a European seat with their three candidates, Alex White, Sheila Nunan and Dominic Hannigan, leaving the S&D Group unrepresented by an Irish MEP for the first time since 1984.

At the February 2020 election, the party's first preference vote dropped to 4.4%, a record low. While the party made gains in Dublin Bay North and Louth, Joan Burton and Jan O'Sullivan both lost their seats and the party failed to retain its seat in Longford-Westmeath caused by the retirement of Willie Penrose. In addition former TDs Emmet Stagg, Joanna Tuffy, and Joe Costello failed to re-capture the seats they lost in 2016.[87] In the subsequent Seanad elections, Labour won 5 seats, which tied them with Sinn Féin as the third-largest party in the House.

After the General Election, Brendan Howlin announced his intention to step down as the leader of the Labour Party.[88] On 3 April 2020 Alan Kelly was elected as party leader, edging out fellow Dáil colleague Aodhán Ó Ríordáin 55% to 45%.[89]

In 2021, the party gained a seventh TD in the Dáil after Ivana Bacik won the 2021 Dublin Bay South by-election.

Ideology and policies


The Labour Party is a party of the centre-left[10][12][13][14] which has been described as a social democratic party[8] but is referred to in its constitution as a democratic socialist party.[11] Its constitution refers to the party as a "movement of democratic socialists, social democrats, environmentalists, progressives, feminists (and) trade unionists".[11] It has been described as a “big tent” party by the Irish Independent.[90]

The stance of the Labour Party has changed dramatically over time. In 1964, American historian Emmet Larkin described the Irish Labour Party as “the most opportunistically conservative Labour Party anywhere in the known world,” due to its Catholic outlook in an Ireland where 95 percent of the population was Roman Catholic. It was known for its longstanding unwillingness (along with Ireland's other major parties) to support any policy that could be construed as sympathetic to secularism or communism. However, from the 1980s it was associated with advocacy for socially liberal policies, with former leader Eamon Gilmore stating in 2007 that “more than any other political movement, it was Labour and its allies which drove the modernization of the Irish state.”[91]

In the past Labour has been referred to, derisively, as “the political wing of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.”[92] That Labour was influenced by Catholicism is not unusual in the Irish context (likewise, both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil were also products of a predominantly Catholic society). Labour's ethos and often its language was profoundly Christian. Following the official separation of the Irish Labour Party and Irish Trade Union Congress into two different organisations in 1930, early drafts of Labour's constitution referred to the responsibilities of the ‘Christian state’, but these had all been removed by the time the constitution was put before the new party's conference for approval. However, the Free State's commitment to a full-scale devotional revival of Catholicism was reflected in the outlook and policies of the party.[92] The ‘Starry Plough,’ the traditional symbol of Labour, reflects a Catholic tradition and biblical reference to Isaiah 2:3-4, which is integral to its design.[93] Like Fianna Fáil, Labour embraced corporatist policies, again influenced by the Catholic Church. This was deemed to be important for both in terms of winning electoral support from the lower and middle classes.[94] However, Labour later became associated with increasing secularism[95][96][97] and championing socially liberal causes in relation to contraception, divorce, LGBT rights and abortion.[98][99][100][101][102][103] Its support base also shifted greatly towards postmaterialists.[104] The Labour Party also changed its position from Euroscepticism in 1972 to pro-Europeanism and ideological integration with European social-democratic parties.[105][106]

LGBT rights policies

Members of Labour taking part in the 2015 Dublin Pride Parade

The Labour Party has been involved in various campaigns for LGBT rights and put forward many bills. The party was in government in 1993 when homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland, and it was President Mary Robinson, herself a longstanding LGBT advocate, who signed the bill into law.[107] Mervyn Taylor published the Employment Equality Bill in 1996, which was enacted in 1998, outlawing discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of sexual orientation. Taylor also published the Equal Status Bill in 1997, enacted in 2000, outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods and services on grounds listed including sexual orientation.[108]

At the 2002 general election, only the manifestos of the Green Party and Labour explicitly referred to the rights of same-sex couples.[109]

In 2003, Labour LGBT was founded. This was the first time a political party in Ireland had formed an LGBT wing.[108]

In December 2006, Labour TD Brendan Howlin tabled a private member's civil unions bill in Dáil Éireann,[110] proposing the legalization of civil partnerships and adoption for same-sex couples.[111] The Fianna Fáil government amended the bill to delay it for six months time, however the Dáil was dissolved for the 2007 Irish general election before this could happen. Labour again brought this bill before the Dáil in 2007 but it was voted down by the government, with the Green Party, who had formerly supported gay marriage, also voting in opposition to the bill, with spokesperson Ciarán Cuffe arguing that the bill was unconstitutional.

At their 2010 national conference Labour passed a motion calling for transgender rights and to legislate for a gender recognition act.[108]

During their time in government, Ireland became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote.[112]

Social policies

Labour supported the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland in 2018[113] to legalize abortion, and canvassed for a Yes vote in that referendum.[114]

Alan Kelly sponsored a bill in 2020 that called for all workers to receive a legal right to sick pay, as well as paid leave for employees whose children have to stay home from school due to COVID-19 measures.[115] The government amended this bill to delay it for six months, a decision that senator Marie Sherlock branded as "unacceptable".[116]

Education policies

In 2020, Labour TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin successfully campaigned for Ireland's free school meals campaign to be extended across summer.[117]

Labour have called for all primary education to be made free by providing grants for books, uniforms and students, and ending the two tier pay system for teachers and secretaries.[118]

Housing policies

In 2020, Labour proposed building 80,000 social and affordable houses, investing €16 billion into housing and freezing rents.[119] In 2021, they called for a three-year rent freeze and a tax to be placed on vacant houses, as well as investment into student housing and preventing student housing from being converted to short term rentals.[120]

Health policies

In their 2020 manifesto, Labour proposed spending an additional 1 billion euro per year on health and delivering free GP care for all under 18s.[121]

In 2021, Labour proposed nationalising two hospitals - one in Dublin and one in either Galway or Cork.[122]

Climate policies

In their climate manifesto in 2020, the party called for halving the country's emissions by 2030, supporting farms transitioning to more environmental forms of farming, restoring peatlands and bogs, banning offshore drilling and supporting a just transition.[118]

Drug policies

In 2017, Labour leader Brendan Howlin became the first traditional party leader to back the full decriminalization of cannabis in Ireland. This came after a motion endorsed by Aodhán O'Riordáin supporting the legalization of cannabis for recreational usage was passed at Labour conference.[123] O'Riordáin had previously voiced his support for the decriminalization of all drugs, stating that "About 70 per cent of the drugs cases that are before our courts at the moment are for possession for personal use, which to be honest is a complete waste of garda time and criminal justice time", saying that someone suffering from addiction "is fundamentally a patient, who should be surrounded by compassion, not somebody who should be sitting in a court room."[124]

The current party leader Alan Kelly has previously stated that he supports the legalisation of marijuana in Ireland on both medicinal and recreational grounds.[125]

In their 2020 manifesto, Labour called for expanding public access to anti-overdose drugs such as Naloxone, and ending criminalisation for possession of small amounts of drugs, but focusing on punishing drug trafficking.[126]

Cultural policies

The party has called for a campaign to promote the usage of spoken Irish, funding outreach initiatives for minorities and marginalised communities and creating a fund for artists.[118]

Historical archives

The Labour Party donated its archives to the National Library of Ireland in 2012. The records can be accessed by means of the call number: MS 49,494.[127] Subsequently, the records of Democratic Left were also donated to the library and can be access via the call number: MS 49,807.[128]

Electoral results

Dáil Éireann

Election Leader 1st pref
% Seats ± Government
1922 Thomas Johnson 132,565 21.3 (#3)
17 / 128
Increase 17 Opposition
1923 111,939 10.6 (#4)
14 / 153
Decrease 3 Opposition
Jun 1927 143,849 12.6 (#3)
22 / 153
Increase 8 Opposition
Sep 1927 106,184 9.1 (#3)
13 / 153
Decrease 9 Opposition
1932 Thomas J. O'Connell 98,286 7.7 (#3)
7 / 153
Decrease 6 Confidence and supply
1933 William Norton 79,221 5.7 (#4)
8 / 153
Increase 1 Confidence and supply
1937 135,758 10.3 (#3)
13 / 138
Increase 5 Confidence and supply
1938 128,945 10.0 (#3)
9 / 138
Decrease 4 Opposition
1943 208,812 15.7 (#3)
17 / 138
Increase 8 Opposition
1944 106,767 8.8 (#4)
8 / 138
Decrease 9 Opposition
1948 115,073 8.7 (#3)
14 / 147
Increase 6 FG–LP–CnPCnTNLP
1951 151,828 11.4 (#3)
16 / 147
Decrease 3[129] Opposition
1954 161,034 12.1 (#3)
19 / 147
Increase 3 FG–LP–CnT
1957 111,747 9.1 (#3)
12 / 147
Decrease 7 Opposition
1961 Brendan Corish 136,111 11.6 (#3)
16 / 144
Increase 4 Opposition
1965 192,740 15.4 (#3)
22 / 144
Increase 6 Opposition
1969 224,498 17.0 (#3)
18 / 144
Decrease 4 Opposition
1973 184,656 13.7 (#3)
19 / 144
Increase 1 FG–LP
1977 186,410 11.6 (#3)
17 / 148
Decrease 2 Opposition
1981 Frank Cluskey 169,990 9.9 (#3)
15 / 166
Decrease 2 FG–LP minority
Feb 1982 Michael O'Leary 151,875 9.1 (#3)
15 / 166
Steady Opposition
Nov 1982 Dick Spring 158,115 9.4 (#3)
16 / 166
Increase 1 FG–LP
1987 114,551 6.4 (#4)
12 / 166
Decrease 4 Opposition
1989 156,989 9.5 (#3)
15 / 166
Increase 3 Opposition
1992 333,013 19.3 (#3)
33 / 166
Increase 18 FF–LP (1992–1994)
FG–LP–DL (1994–1997)
1997 186,044 10.4 (#3)
17 / 166
Decrease 16 Opposition
2002 Ruairi Quinn 200,130 10.8 (#3)
20 / 166
Increase 3 Opposition
2007 Pat Rabbitte 209,175 10.1 (#3)
20 / 166
Steady Opposition
2011 Eamon Gilmore 431,796 19.5 (#2)
37 / 166
Increase 17 FG–LP
2016 Joan Burton 140,898 6.6 (#4)
7 / 158
Decrease 30 Opposition
2020[130] Brendan Howlin 95,582 4.4 (#5)
6 / 160
Decrease 1 Opposition

European Parliament

Election 1st pref
% Seats +/–
1979 193,898 14.5 (#3)
4 / 15
1984 93,656 8.3 (#3)
0 / 15
Decrease 4
1989 155,572 9.5 (#4)
1 / 15
Increase 1
1994 124,972 11.0 (#3)
1 / 15
1999 121,542 8.7 (#3)
1 / 15
2004 188,132 10.5 (#4)
1 / 13
2009 254,669 13.9 (#3)
3 / 12
Increase 2
2014 88,229 5.3 (#4)
0 / 11
Decrease 3
2019 52,753 3.1 (#6)
0 / 13

Northern Ireland

Election Leader Seats (out of NI total) Government
# ±
1950 William Norton
0 / 12
Steady N/A
1951 William Norton
1 / 12
Increase 1 Conservative
1955 William Norton
0 / 12
Decrease 1 N/A
Election Body Seats Outcome
1953 8th Parliament
1 / 52
UUP Majority
1958 9th Parliament
0 / 52
UUP Majority
1962 10th Parliament
1 / 52
UUP Majority


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[131] 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 seven Trade Unions affiliated to the Party:

Socialist Societies Affiliated to the Party:

  • Labour Party Lawyers Group
  • Association of Labour Teachers
  • Labour Social Services Group


Party leader

The following are the terms of office as party leader and as Tánaiste:

Deputy leader

Name Period Constituency
Barry Desmond 1982–1989 Dún Laoghaire
Ruairi Quinn 1989–1997 Dublin South-East
Brendan Howlin 1997–2002 Wexford
Liz McManus 2002–2007 Wicklow
Joan Burton 2007–2014 Dublin West
Alan Kelly 2014–2016 Tipperary North

Seanad leader

Elected Representatives

Parliamentary Labour Party

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 July 2021 there are 11 members of the PLP: 7 TDs and 4 Senators.

Labour Party TDs in the 33rd Dáil Éireann (2020- )

Labour Party Senators in the 26th Seanad Éireann (2020- )

Front Bench


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. Following the 2019 Irish local elections, the party had 567 local representatives.[132]

See also


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Further reading

  • Paul Daly; Ronan O'Brien; Paul Rouse, eds. (2012). Making the Difference? The Irish Labour Party 1912–2012. Cork: The Collins Press. ISBN 978-1-84889-142-5.

External links