Labour Party (Ireland)

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]

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 elected representative to be killed during the Easter Rising. O'Carroll was shot 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.

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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] 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).[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.

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] 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.

Larkin returned to Ireland in 1923.[citation needed] He hoped to resume the leadership role he had previously left, but O'Brien resisted him.[citation needed] Larkin sided with the more radical elements of the party, and in September that year he established the Irish Worker League.[citation needed]

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] It appeared for a time during the 1940s that the Labour Party would replace Fine Gael as the main opposition party.[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.[23] In the 1930s, the Labour Party received adverse publicity and was accused of tacitly supporting Soviet Communism and 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, 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."[24]

The Larkin-O'Brien feud still continued, and worsened over time.[citation needed] In the 1940s the hatred caused a split in the Labour Party and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. O'Brien left with six TDs in 1944, founding the National Labour Party, whose leader was James Everett. O'Brien also withdrew ITGWU from the Irish Trades 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 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.)

In 1960, the Labour leader Brendan Corish described the party's programme as "a form of Christian socialism".[25]

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".[26] At Westminster, Jack Beattie held Belfast West from 1951 to 1955;[27] the British Labour party refused Beattie its whip.[28] At Stormont, Belfast Dock was won by Murtagh Morgan in 1953 and Paddy Devlin in 1962,[29] but Devlin in 1964 left for the Republican Labour Party and Irish Labour contested no further Westminster or Stormont elections.[26][30] 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.[26] In Derry, the party collapsed when Stephen McGonagle left after 1952.[31] 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.[32] Party branches still existed in Warrenpoint and Newry as late as 1982,[30] though candidates were heavily defeated in Newry and Mourne District Council at the 1973 local elections.[33] The Social Democratic and Labour Party founded in 1970 took most of Irish Labour's voters and soon had its formal endorsement.

Brendan Corish became the new Labour leader in 1960. As leader he advocated more socialist policies, and introduced them to the party. In 1972, the party campaigned against membership of the European Economic Community (EEC).[34] 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.

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).[35][36] 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.

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).[37])

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.

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. 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.[38] 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. [39]

The launch was held in the Pillar Room of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.[40]

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.

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),[41] 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.

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 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. This was the first time since the 1979 European Parliament Elections that Labour equalled the number of seats held in Europe by either Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.[42]

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%.[43]

At the 2011 general election, Labour received 19.5% of first preference votes, and 37 seats.[44] On 9 March 2011, it became the junior partner in a coalition government with Fine Gael for the period of the 31st Dáil.[45] 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.[46] On 1 December 2011 Tommy Broughan lost the party whip after voting against the government in relation to the Bank Guarantee Scheme.[47] On 6 December 2011 Patrick Nulty lost the party whip after voting against the VAT increase in the 2012 budget.[48] 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.[49] On 13 December 2012 Colm Keaveney lost the party whip after voting against the cut to the respite care grant in the 2013 budget.[50] Senator James Heffernan lost the party whip in December 2012 after voting against the government on the Social Welfare Bill.[51] 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",[52] and she resigned from the party in July 2013. In June 2013, Patrick Nulty and Colm Keaveney resigned from the Labour Party.[53] Willie Penrose returned to the parliamentary Labour Party in October 2013.[54]

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%.[55] On her election, she said that the Labour Party "would focus on social repair, and govern more with the heart".[55] Burton was the first woman to lead the Labour Party.

Budgets 2012 to 2016 – introduced in part by Brendan Howlin as Minister for Public Expenditure and supported by Labour[56] – were described by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) as “unable to be characterised in terms of simple patterns of progressivity or regressivity” and that "over a substantial range the pattern is broadly proportional, but this does not extend to whole income distribution". The ESRI went on to say that "The greatest policy-induced losses have been at the top of the income distribution".

It found “Budget 2012 involved greater proportionate losses for those on low incomes: reductions of about 2 to 2½ per cent for those with the lowest incomes, as against losses of about ¾ of a per cent for those on the highest incomes”.

By contrast, the ESRI found earlier budgets in 2008–2010 to be “strongly progressive” because before 2011 “Losses imposed by policy changes in tax and welfare have been greatest for those on the highest incomes, and smaller for those on low incomes”.[57]

However, it concluded “Budget 2014 had its greatest impact – a reduction of 2 per cent – on low income groups. The lowest impact was on some middle income groups (a loss of 1 to 1¼ per cent) while the top income group lost slightly less than 1¾ per cent – somewhat more than the middle, and less than the bottom income group.”[58] The ESRI described the overall impact of Budget 2015 as "close to neutral, increasing average income by less than 0.1 per cent."[59] The ESRI found that Budget 2016 "led to a modest increase – just under 0.7 per cent – in aggregate household disposable income.[60]

In the 2016 general election, Labour achieved a poor result, receiving only 6.6% of first preference votes, and 7 seats.[61] It was the worst general election in its history, with a loss of 30 seats on its showing in 2011.[62]

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.[63] Howlin stated that as leader he was prepared to bring Labour back into government, citing the lack of influence on policy from opposition.[64] 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".[65]

Two Labour councillors resigned from the party in late 2018 - Martina Genockey and Mick Duff, both based in Dublin.[66]

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.[67] 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.[68] On 3 April 2020 Alan Kelly was elected as party leader, edging out fellow Dáil colleague Aodhán Ó Ríordáin 55% to 45%.[69]

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

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]

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.[70] 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.[71]

At the 2002 general election, only the manifestos of the Green Party and Labour explicitly referred to the rights of same-sex couples.[72]

In 2003, Labour LGBT was founded. This was the first time a political party in Ireland had formed an LGBT wing.[71]

In December 2006, Labour TD Brendan Howlin tabled a private member's civil unions bill in Dáil Éireann,[73] proposing the legalization of civil partnerships and adoption for same-sex couples.[74] 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.[71]

During their time in government, Ireland became the first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote.[75]

Labour supported the repeal of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland in 2018[76] to legalize abortion, and canvassed for a Yes vote in that referendum.[77]

Labour leader 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.[78] The government amended this bill to delay it for six months, a decision that senator Marie Sherlock branded as "unacceptable".[79]

Labour poster on education policy. Meeting advertised during COVID-19 lockdown.

In 2020, Labour TD Aodhán Ó Riordáin successfully campaigned for Ireland's free school meals campaign to be extended across summer.[80]

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.[81]

Labour launched their housing policies in 2020, and proposed building 80,000 social and affordable houses, investing 16 billion euro into housing and freezing rents.[82]

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.[83]

The party has pledged to spend 40 million euro over three years on University Hospital Limerick to combat the under-funding of the hospital.[82]

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.[81]

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.[84] 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."[85]

The current party leader Alan Kelly has previously stated that he supports the legalization of marijuana in Ireland on both medicinal and recreational grounds.[86]

In their 2020 manifesto, Labour called for expanding public access to anti-overdose drugs such as Naloxone, and ending the penalization for possession of small amounts of drugs, but focusing on punishing drug trafficking.[87]

The party has called for a campaign to promote the usage of spoken Irish, funding outreach initiatives for minorities and marginalized communities and creating a fund for artists.[81]

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.[88] Subsequently, the records of Democratic Left were also donated to the library and can be access via the call number: MS 49,807.[89]

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[92] 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.

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:

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

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.

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 57 local representatives.[93]