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Proinsias De Rossa

Proinsias De Rossa MEP (born Francis Ross on 15 May 1940, in Dublin) is an Irish Labour Party politician and former President of the Workers Party and subsequently leader of Democratic Left, and later, a senior member of the Labour Party

He was Minister for Social Welfare from 1994 to 1997. Since 1999 he has been a member of the European Parliament in the Party of European Socialists group.

Early political activity

De Rossa was educated at Marlborough Street National School and Dublin Institute of Technology. He was politically active in Sinn Féin and the IRA from an early age, and was interned in the Curragh from 1956 until 1959 for his part in the Border Campaign (IRA).

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 in February 1982, and retained his Dublin North-West 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 build up 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 Teachtaí Dála (members of Dáil Éireann), against hardliners centred around party 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 Ard Fheis (party congress) 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, 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 Fáil-Labour 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. His tenure was not without controversy however and the 1995 Budget allocation of 2.5% to pensioners and the unemployed led to widespread criticism of De Rossa. The Irish Independent newspaper published the results of an investigation into the appointment of Democratic Left party members, to state jobs. This was followed by a revelations that a position in his department was advertised only in a Democratic Left internal newsletter, and not in the wider media. De Rossa was now under pressure, and he decided to make a public apology in the Dáil, in order to close the matter. However, because the apology was made in Irish, this created further controversy, as it indicated that De Rossa was trying to minimise the damage created by the contorversy in his local constituency, which had few fluent Irish Language speakers.

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 Ruairí 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 Proinsias De Rossa contested the European Parliament election in Dublin. He was elected and in the 2004 elections retained his seat. De Rossa did not contest his Dáil seat in the 2002 general election.

Libel action

It was during De Rossa's period as leader of Democratic Left that Irish journalist Éamonn 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 , despite the existence of a begging letter, signed by De Rossa and then-WP General Secretary Seán Garland in 1986, requesting funding from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The letter stated:

Expenditure over a 12 month period is £325,000 which covers wages, offices and publications. The bulk of the shortfall has been met by 'special activities' of which it is not possible to detail here because of reasons we are sure you will understand. The 'special activities' are unable always to be effective and so on occasion the party has had to seek loans...Further the continued growth of the party in the public domain makes 'special activities' more hazardous for the paty [sic] which has more than enough enemies in the establishment ready to pounce on mistakes or difficulties.

His 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.

The Irish government's proposal to change the country's objective one status for European Regional Aid. The Irish government made the case that there were significant differences in income growth between the counties of the East, and South on one hand, and counties in the West and border on the other. De Rossa opposed this on the basis that levels of grant aid to his constituency would be reduced. However, he failed in this regard, and the amendment was approved. De Rossa was a member of the European convention which produced the July 2003 draft European constitution.

On the controversial European software patent directive, De Rossa was initially unsure (see , audio file of De Rossa speech). De Rossa was absent for the first reading of the directive in the parliament.

He later took a position against the patentability of software. When the directive was rejected on the second reading, he made a statement confirming his continued stance against software patentability (see ).

Sources

  • 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

External links

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