DUBLIN — After special conferences of Labor and the Democratic Left voted overwhelming in favor of a merger, leader Ruairi Quinn has said a target of 40 TDs for the first time is feasible in the next general election.
Joined under the Labor Party name, the new left grouping will have a voting strength of 21 TDs in the 166-seat Dail and is likely to be a part of any coalition that emerges after the next election.
The merger will come into effect not later than Feb. 1 next with Quinn remaining as leader and former DL leader Prionsias De Rossa set to take over the new position of president of the party.
Both conferences strongly backed the merger. The Labor party voted on a show of hands and DL was 89 percent in favor.
The merger’s political impact will not emerge until the next election, when it will become clear whether the new grouping can capitalize on its combined strengths and make a breakthrough against the big two of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
With the "new" merged Labor party expected to adopt center-left policies, the Socialist Party, with its sole TD, Joe Higgins, and a resurgent Sinn Fein, with Caoimhghin O’Caolain as its first ever sitting TD, will be targeting the more extreme left and nationalist vote.
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The "Spring tide" factor in the 1992 general election gave Labor an unprecedented 33 seats and it looked like it was set to challenge Fine Gael as the second biggest party.
The decision to form a coalition with Fianna Fail was blamed as the major reason for its setback to just 17 seats in June 1997.
Quinn said the Northern Ireland peace deal had done away with the "bitter divisions" of Ireland’s civil war and the merger united the two dominant traditions of the Irish left — labor and radical republicanism.
He said the new divide in the country was between rich and poor, with many left behind in the Celtic Tiger economy.
Divisions had left the Labor Party the weakest in Europe, Quinn said, and unity was needed if there was to be an Irish left-led government for the first time.
Founded in 1912, the Labor party is the oldest party, and got 10.4 percent of the vote in the last general election. It has 18 TDs now following a by-election success as a result of former Foreign Minister Ray Burke resigning from his Dublin North seat.
However, Seamus Pattison is the Ceann Comhairle, leaving it with a voting strength of 17.
Democratic Left, founded in 1992, got 2.5 percent of the vote last year and has 4 TDs.
Labor has been a junior party in coalitions on four occasions since 1973 — as much as Fianna Fail and more than Fine Gael.
Quinn said the Labor party now had the capacity to grow. "The potential constituency for the Left is 20 to 30 percent. If we were to get 25 percent of the votes in a general election, we would push our seats up over the 40 mark.
"That is a feasible and realistic target to aim for," he said. "Very difficult to achieve, but it’s a target that we can now legitimately and seriously aim for."
He said the 1992 combined Labor and DL vote amounted to the equivalent of 30 seats.
"The Labor party has the possibility of becoming the second-largest party in this country, provided we do our work and we present the Irish electorate with a clear and radical political alternative," Quinn said.