The Development of the Irish Labour Party's European Policy: From Opposition to Support

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The story of the Irish Labour Party’s transition from opposition to support for European integration is a fascinating one. Labour has gone from leading the campaign against membership in 1972 to leading the campaign to rescue the Treaty of Nice in 2002, a thirty-year political odyssey which sheds light on a number of important political questions. This book explores the key role played by political parties in connecting citizens to the European Union (EU), and as the EU tries to strengthen its democratic credentials, that role is going to become even more important.

It explores the complex relationship between Ireland and the EU, as the country moves from being outside the EU to one of its strongest supporters to surprisingly rejecting the Treaty of Nice. It examines the links between social democracy and European integration, as the Labour Party’s transition mirrors the path taken by many other European social democratic parties.

Above all, the book provides a comprehensive analysis of the Labour Party, examining its role in government and in opposition, assessing it at national and European levels, and evaluating its principles and policies. The result is an engaging and insightful treatment of an important and thought-provoking topic.


“In 1972, the Irish Labour Party (ILP) led the 'No' campaign against Ireland’s membership of the European Community. The Irish public thought differently. The vote by the Irish population was an overwhelming 80% plus in favor of joining; and since joining in 1973, the Republic of Ireland has remained – more or less – a shining example of Euro-enthusiasm ... In order to understand ILP policy in 1972, Dr. Holmes’ analysis goes back to the ILP in the 1960s, and in order to understand the ILP itself, he goes back to early twentieth century Irish politics, but in essence, this volume is an analysis of the ILP and its relation to Europe over the last 40 years. One irony is that through Dr. Holmes’ analysis of this little party, we gain insights into not only the history of Irish politics itself, but of Ireland’s place in European integration, as well as insight into the evolution of Irish social democracy. Dr. Michael Holmes is a leading authority on Irish politics, and his study of the ILP demonstrates the complexity of the politics of small parties, as well as that of Irish politics more generally ...” – (from the Preface) Professor John Gaffney, Aston University

“ ... This book makes an important contribution in several areas. The research underlying this study is extensive, drawing upon contemporary newspapers and parliamentary debates, party documents, the broader Irish and comparative literature, and supplementing this with interviews conducted by party insiders and key personnel. Labour’s own evolving thoughts on the EU are sensitively placed in the context of debates and changes within Irish society and the Irish political system ... The result is not only a very polished academic study but also a fascinating account of the EU and its powerful impact on one member state ...” – Professor Michael Gallagher, University of Dublin

“This book is a very valuable and timely contribution to the fast-growing literature on social democracy and European integration. The role of the European Union (EU) in developments over the past twenty years is a major source of contention, with some arguing that the EU has been one of the main vehicles by which the neo-liberal agenda is being advanced, while others argue that the EU offers social democratic parties the only way of defending their interests. This book explores those debates with particular reference to the case of the Irish Labour Party ... an essential addition to the library of anyone interested in social democracy in Europe.” – Dr. Simon Lightfoot, University of Leeds

Table of Contents

List of Tables
List of Interviews
Preface by John Gaffney
1. European Integration and Political Parties
2. The Labour Party in Context
3. Constructive Opposition, 1960-1972
4. Critical Acceptance, 1973-1989
5. Critical Support, 1990-2000
6. Commitment and Leadership, 2001 and Onwards
7. The Europeanisation of the Irish Labour Party

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