Proinsias De Rossa

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Proinsias De Rossa
Proinsias De Rossa.jpg
Member of the European Parliament
In office
June 1999 – February 2012
In office
June 1989 – 1992
Constituency Dublin
Minister for Social Welfare
In office
15 December 1994 – 26 June 1997
Preceded by Michael Woods
Succeeded by Dermot Ahern
Personal details
Born (1940-05-15) 15 May 1940 (age 78)
Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Labour Party (since 1999)
Other political
Democratic Left (1992–99)
Workers' Party (1970–92)
Sinn Féin (1956–70)
Alma mater Dublin Institute of Technology

Proinsias De Rossa (born 15 May 1940) is an Irish former Labour Party politician. He was President of the Workers' Party and subsequently leader of Democratic Left; later, he was a senior member of the Labour Party. He was Minister for Social Welfare from 1994 to 1997.[1] He was a Member of the European Parliament for the Dublin constituency from 1989 to 1992 and from 1999 to 2012.

Early life and political activity

Born as Francis Ross in 1940 in Dublin, he was educated at Marlborough Street National School and Dublin Institute of Technology. Soon after his sixteenth birthday, in May 1956, he joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA),[2] and was politically active in Sinn Féin from an early age. During the IRA Border Campaign, he was captured while training other IRA members in Glencree in May 1956. He served seven months in Mountjoy Prison and was then interned at the Curragh Camp.[3]

He worked in his family's fruit and vegetable shop and later was employed as a postman and an encyclopaedia salesman. He took the Official Sinn Féin side in the 1970 split. In 1977 he contested his first general election for the party, which that year was renamed Sinn Féin the Workers Party (in 1982 the name changed again to the Workers' Party).

He was successful on his third attempt and was elected at the February 1982 general election as a Sinn Féin the Workers Party Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North–West constituency. He retained his seat until 2002, when he did not contest the general election in order to devote more time to his work in the European parliament.

Workers' Party leadership and split

In 1988, De Rossa succeeded Tomás Mac Giolla as president of the Workers' Party. The party had been growing steadily in the 1980s and had its best ever electoral performance in the general and European elections held in 1989. The party won 7 Dáil seats with 5% of the vote. De Rossa himself was elected to the European Parliament for the Dublin constituency, where he topped the poll and the party almost succeeded in replacing Fine Gael as the capital's second-largest party. However the campaign resulted in a serious buildup of the financial debt of the Workers' Party, which threatened to greatly inhibit the party's ability to successfully ensure it would hold on to its gains.

In 1992, long-standing tensions within the Workers' Party pitting reformers, including most of the party's TDs, against hard-liners centred on former general secretary Seán Garland came to a head. Disagreements on policy issues were exacerbated by the desire of the reformers to ditch the democratic centralist nature of the party structures and remove any remaining questions about alleged party links with the Official IRA, a topic which had been the subject of persistent and embarrassing media coverage. De Rossa called a Special Ardfheis (party conference) to debate changes to the constitution. The motion failed to get the required two-thirds majority and subsequently De Rossa led the majority of the parliamentary group and councillors out of a meeting of the party's Central Executive Committee the following Saturday at Wynn's Hotel, splitting the party.

Democratic Left

De Rossa and the other former Workers' Party members then established a new political party, provisionally called New Agenda. At its founding conference in March 1992 it was named Democratic Left and De Rossa was elected party leader. Later that year, he resigned his European Parliament seat in favour of Democratic Left general secretary Des Geraghty.

Following the collapse of the Fianna FáilLabour Party coalition government in 1994, Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left successfully negotiated a government programme for the remaining life of the 27th Dáil. De Rossa became Minister for Social Welfare. He initiated Ireland's first national anti-poverty strategy, a commission on the family, and a commission to examine national pension policy.

The 1997 general election resulted in the defeat of the outgoing coalition. At this point, the party had accumulated a very significant financial debt. In light of the co-operation achieved during the rainbow government, in practically all policy areas, Democratic Left decided to merge with the Labour Party. Labour leader Ruairi Quinn became leader of the unified party while De Rossa took up the symbolic post of party president, which he held until 2002.

In 1999 De Rossa was elected at the European Parliament election for the Dublin constituency. He was re-elected at the 2004 European Parliament election. De Rossa did not contest his Dáil seat at the 2002 general election.[4]

Libel action

It was during De Rossa's period as leader of Democratic Left that Irish journalist Eamon Dunphy, writing in the Sunday Independent newspaper, published an article alleging that De Rossa was aware, while a member of the Workers' Party, of the Official IRA's alleged illegal activities, including bank robberies and forgery. De Rossa sued the newspaper for libel and was awarded IR£300,000.[5]

Work as an MEP

De Rossa has been a member of the European Parliament, with a strong pro-integration approach from a distinctly Social Democratic perspective, as well as a keen interest in foreign policy and social policy. He originally joined the Communist and Allies group before transferring to the PES, and then to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group.

De Rossa was a member of the European Convention which produced the July 2003 draft European constitution. De Rossa is chair of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with the Palestinian Legislative Council. Moreover, he is a member of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs and the Conference of Delegation Chairs. De Rossa is also a substitute member of the Committee on Development and is a substitute on the delegation to the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly.

On 16 January 2012, he announced his decision to resign as an MEP,[6] and stepped down on 1 February.


  • The Politics of Illusion: A Political History of the IRA, Henry Patterson, ISBN 1-897959-31-1
  • The Workers' Party in Dáil Éireann: The First Ten Years, The Workers' Party, 1991
  • Patterns of Betrayal: The Flight From Socialism, The Workers' Party, 1992


  1. "Mr. Proinsias De Rossa". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 8 May 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Hanley, Brian, and Millar, Scott (2009). The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party. Dublin: Penguin Ireland. p. 12
  3. Hanley, Brian, and Millar, Scott (2009). The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party. Dublin: Penguin Ireland. p. 17
  4. "Proinsias De Rossa". Retrieved 8 May 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "De Rossa v. Independent Newspapers [1999] IESC 63; [1999] 4 IR 432 (30th July, 1999)". Retrieved 26 January 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Prionsias De Rossa to step down as MEP". RTÉ News. 16 January 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Preceded by
Hugh Byrne
(Fine Gael)
Workers' Party Teachta Dála for Dublin North–West
Succeeded by
as Democratic Left TD
Preceded by
as Workers' Party TD
Democratic Left Teachta Dála for Dublin North–West
Succeeded by
Seat abolished
Political offices
Preceded by
Michael Woods
Minister for Social Welfare
Succeeded by
Dermot Ahern
European Parliament
Preceded by
Eileen Lemass
(Fianna Fáil)
Member of the European Parliament for Dublin
Succeeded by
Des Geraghty
(Democratic Left)
Preceded by
Bernie Malone
(Labour Party)
Member of the European Parliament for Dublin
Succeeded by
Emer Costello
(Labour Party)
Party political offices
Preceded by
Tomás Mac Giolla
President of the Workers' Party of Ireland
Succeeded by
Marian Donnelly
New political party Leader of Democratic Left
Succeeded by
Merged with Labour Party