Labour's proud history

Labour's achievements

In its almost one century of existence Labour has fought many battles which have shaped Irish society for the better. Among our achievements can be included the following:

  • In 1922, when the opponents of the Treaty left the Dáil and precipitated the Civil War, Labour provided the first Opposition, bringing constitutional politics to Ireland.
  • Labour Leader, Tom Johnston, TD., was the author of the programme for the first Dáil
  • Labour in Government was responsible for major building programmes for social housing in the 1940/50s and again in the 1970s. The homes provided during these period still provide the backbone for social and affordable housing today.
  • Labour was the first major party to oppose Ireland's constitutional ban on divorce. On two occasions - with Labour in Government on both occasions - the people were asked to change the Constitution on this issue. On the second occasion the proposal was carried by a small majority. Labour has consistently championed liberal legislation on divorce, contraception, women's reproductive rights and gay rights. Often Labour has been a lone voice on these issues.
  • Established Combat Poverty Agency. Frank Cluskey, as Minister for Social Welfare established the first Combat Poverty Agency which channelled funds to disadvantaged communities and revealed for the first time the extent of poverty in Ireland. Labour re-established the agency in 1986 after Fianna Fail had closed it down.
  • The election of Mary Robinson as President of Ireland in 1991. Mary Robinson was the first woman President, the first not to be nominated by Fianna Fᩬ. For the first time she made the presidency an active and inclusive institution.
  • Introduction of Equality Legislation. Mervyn Taylor, as Minister for Equality and Law reform introduced the Equality Legislation which for the first time outlawed discrimination against people with disabilities, gays and lesbians, Travellers, ethnic minorities and other minorities.
  • Introduced the National Anti-Poverty Strategy. Proinsias De Rossa as minister for Social Welfare introduced the first National Anti-poverty Strategy (NAPS). For the first time Government acknowledged poverty and set out targets to reduce it and its causes. This approach is now adopted through out the EU, while Fianna Fail/PDs have watered down the Irish version.
  • Ethic in Politics. Labour introduced the first legislation to cap spending at elections, control political donations, and require politicians to reveal their interests. Uniquely among the larger parties, no Labour politician has been charged with corruption.
  • A commitment to universally free and accessible education, exemplified by the abolition of third-level fees and the introduction of radical and Innovative programmes to combat disadvantage at primary level.
  • Played a key role in the peace process. Party leader Dick Spring, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, was a major participant in the Downing Street Declarations and led the negotiations that concluded the Joint Framework Documents, the precursor to the Good Friday Agreement. He also concluded agreements with the USA and the European Union to underpin the peace process with financial support and significant investment.
  • Laid a good part of the foundations for the "celtic tiger". Ruairi Quinn's tenure in the Department of Finance is now widely seen as being responsible for the strong base of the economy in the first half of the 1990s, positioning it for end of the mass unemployment of the 1970s and 80s and the rapid growth that followed.
  • Placed a considerable emphasis on the development of arts, culture and our national language, especially through the appointment of Michael D Higgins as Ireland's first - and best - Arts Minister.
  • The first political party to commit Ireland, in word and deed, to achieving the United Nations target of aid to the developing world.

A Brief History of The Labour Party

The Labour Party was 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 is the oldest political party in Ireland and the only one which pre-dates independence. The founders of the Labour Party believed that for ordinary working people to shape society they needed a political party that was committed to serving their needs; they knew that there is only so much that trade unions and community organisations can do, an effective political party is needed to create a fair society. Similar political movements were being forged throughout the world at this time, and the internationalism and progressive politics of this era has profoundly shaped Labour's philosophy since.

Much of the political optimism and potential of that era came to grief in the slaughter of the First World War. In Ireland concerns about national determination came to dominate with the 1916 Easter Rising and the War of Independence. Labour was profoundly engaged in those events, Labour leaders arguing for not just an "independent Ireland" but on Ireland which was just and fair. The decisions taken by Labour leaders at that time are still debated today. James Connolly, of course, was one of the signatories of the 1916 Proclaimation, participated in the rising along with the Citizen's Army, and was executed in May 1916

The Labour Party did not take part in the General Election of 1918 or the parliamentary elections of 1921. This decision was taken to facilitated a clear-cut decision by the electorate on the national question and to avoid the possibility of a split in the Labour Movement which was organised on an all-Ireland basis.

This decision had serious implications for the future of the Party. In the 1918 election, two out of every three voters were voting for the first time and forming political links which were to last a lifetime. The national debate was not resolved by the elections of 1918 and 1921 or the civil war which followed. It has continued to be a part of politics in Ireland ever since.

The debate about the national issue pushed consideration of social issues into the background. Moreover, the major parties were conservative and opposed to socialism. This meant that there was little or no attention given to issues of social justice, such as poverty, unemployment and emigration which badly affected the lives of Irish working people.

Connolly and Larkin

James Connolly & Jim Larkin, co-founders of The Labour Party

In the 1922 elections, the Labour Party won 22% of the vote, with 17 of its 18 candidates being elected. The outbreak of civil war and the refusal of those against the Treaty to take their seats in the Dáil cast Labour in the role of the first official opposition party in the State. The Labour Party was thus instrumental in establishing constitutional party politics in Ireland.

The participation of both groups in the 1948 Inter-Party Government helped reunite the Party in 1950. From 1954 to 1957 the Labour Party joined Fine Gael in the Second Inter-Party Government.

The early sixties brought growth within the Party and an extension of its support. It also received a considerable boost from the re-affiliation of a number of trade unions, including the ITGWU, during this period. At the 1965 General Election the Party won 22 Dáil seats and in 1969 received 17% of the vote.

A decision of the 1970 Annual Conference enabled the Party to consider entering coalition. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Labour entered a number of coalition governments with Fine Gael. Party fortunes varied over these years with a particular success being achieved in 1979 when the Party won four of the 15 seats in the European Elections.

In 1990, the Party Leader, Dick Spring TD, invited Mary Robinson, a former Labour Senator, Councillor and Dáil candidate and a leading civil rights lawyer, to seek the Labour nomination for the Presidency. In an historic campaign, Mary Robinson was elected by the Irish people to become Ireland's first woman President.

In the General Election of 1992, the Party achieved its highest vote ever (19.3%) and highest number of Deputies (33). This historic breakthrough paved the way for Labour's entry into Government for the sixth time.

Labour remained in Government until May 1997, sharing power with Fianna Fail until November 1994 and from then with Fine Gael and Democratic Left. It was a period of unparalleled economic growth and social reform. During that time the education budget doubled, local authority house completions trebled, arts investment and aid to the developing world quadrupled.

The General Election in 1997 saw Labour's return to opposition and in November 1997, Dick Spring TD, resigned as Party Leader and was succeeded by Ruairi Quinn TD. In 1999 The Labour Party merged with Democratic Left and Proinsias De Rossa, Leader of Democratic Left, became Labour's first President. In 2002 Pat Rabbitte was elected Party Leader in a national member ballot. Eamon Gilmore succeed Pat Rabbitte as Leader of the Labour Party in 2007 and stepped down as Labour Leader in 2014


The previous leaders of the Labour Party were:

  • Tom Johnson TD 1922-1927
  • T.J. O'Connell TD 1927-1932
  • William Norton TD 1932-1960
  • Brendan Corish TD 1960-1977
  • Frank Cluskey TD 1977-1981
  • Michael O'Leary TD 1981-1982
  • Dick Spring TD 1982-1997
  • Ruairi Quinn TD 1997-2002
  • Pat Rabbitte TD 2002-2007
  • Eamon Gilmore TD 2007-2014
  • Joan Burton TD 2014-2016
  • Brendan Howlin TD 2016-2020
  • Alan Kelly TD 2020...

Symbol of the Labour PartyLabour_Red_Rose_CMYK

The rose was adopted by the Party as its symbol in 1991 and redesigned to its current presentation in 1997. It is a symbol we share with many of our sister parties in the Socialist International.

For many years the party used the "Starry Plough" as its primary symbol. This remains an important symbol for the party and is still used for ceremonial occasions.

Labour's Internationalism

While always patriotic and proud of our Irishness, Labour has always been more deeply connected with world politics than other Irish parties. We have always understood that to build a fair society we must build a fair world. To this end we work closely with similar parties throughout the globe. The two main international organisation we work through are:

The Party of European Socialists (PES). The PES is the political grouping for all socialist and social democratic parties in the European Union (and accession countries). Labour MEPs sit with the PES group in the European Parliament, and Labour delegates attend the PES Annual Conference, Labour MEP Proinsias De Rossa is PES Vice President, and former leader Ruairi Quinn is the Treasurer. As the develops, so too must the PES, and it will come to play an increasing role in the life of party members

The Socialist International (SI). The SI is the federation of all socialist and social democratic parties throughout the world. It hold global and regional meetings and also hold specialist workshops on key issues. The challenge of globalisation requires a global political response and in this context, SI is coming to greater prominence.