Issue 3-2023-200dpi

27 March 1997 Edition

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High Court defeat for Democratic Left


The failure of Prionsias De Rossa's High Court action against the Sunday Independent at the end of the second trial last week represents a serious setback not only for the Minister for Social Welfare himself but also for Democratic Left.

The High Court jury could not agree that Sunday Independent columnist Eamon Dunphy had libelled De Rossa in the manner alleged by him and the long and expensive legal process initiated by the Democratic Left leader ended with the newspaper claiming a success. While the newspaper people congratulated themselves, Democratic Left held what was by all accounts a pathetic party to `celebrate' their fifth birthday.

Anxious to distance themselves from an embarassing loss, senior DL figures were telling the media that the case had been De Rossa's personal venture. At least one fellow DL minister, Pat Rabbite, is known to have advised De Rossa not to bring the case to a second trial after the collapse of the first last year. No-one could be found to advocate the pursuit of the issue to a third round.

The birthday party must have been full of the ghosts that De Rossa stirred up in his libel action, ghosts which his colleagues had hoped were laid to rest when they split from the Workers Party. To understand the bitterness of that split one has to appreciate the feelings of those they left behind. For 20 years they had worked to elect Workers Party TDs and make an impact on politics in the 26 Counties. To do this they had ditched principles and policies wholesale, travelling from their political origins in the Republican Movement of the 1960s to abandonment of opposition to partition and a pro-unionist stance on the national question, to their own form of Stalinism and then full support for the multinationals. They played a central part in the reactionary backlash of the late `70s and 1980s, being key supporters of censorship in RTE and of anti-republican factions in the trade union movement. Their history was denied as they created a brand new image for themselves.

Then in 1992, at the height of their electoral success the star Workers Party TDs left en bloc to form a new party. Three years later they were ministers in a government with Fine Gael and their arch-electoral rivals, Labour.

Democratic Left was top heavy from the start and its embarrassing lack of grassroots members has been publicly exposed on several ocassions. While its TDs are well-established personalities in the media and have strong personal followings in their consitutuencies, the party has established neither a clear public image nor a widespread organisation. De Rossa's own home area of Finglas was bitterly riven by the split. Opinion polls regularly show what seems like confusion among voters between DL and the Workers Party. All these difficulties can only have been deepened by De Rossa's decision to invest so much political capital in this libel case.

More than any other party DL needs the present Coalition to hang together, come up with a common programme to fight the election and get back in government. It is their only reason to exist. In the long run De Rossa's failed libel case may mark a milestone in the decline of Democratic Left, presaging its disappearance either through gradual loss of seats or else amalgamation with Labour.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1