The fall of communism throughout Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 90s dealt a severe blow to socialist and communist parties in western European countries. Ireland was no exception. The Workers' Party had enjoyed their best result ever in 1989, only to find themselves a diminished force three years later when the bulk of their elected representatives moved away from Marxist ideology and formed Democratic Left. As a result, the hard left presence in Ireland was small enough to be nearly non-existant. It seemed communism had indeed been left on the ash heap of history, and any parties which continued to promote it would meet the same fate.
As if to illustrate this, the void left in Ireland's far left politics was filled in the 1990s by parties which adapted to, or even embraced the collapse of Soviet communism. This gap was initially filled by Democratic Left, but as that party moved further towards the centre over the course of the decade, the gap reappeared, ready to be filled by other parties. One of these was the Socialist Workers' Movement, which had existed as a small hard left group since 1971. It supported the collapse of the USSR, which it saw as having betrayed true socialism. A fringe group for much of its life, only in 1997 did it develop a national profile when it ran its first candidates for Dáil Éireann.
On this occasion it ran four candidates - three of them in Dublin. They each polled below 2%. From this beginning, more candidates were put forward at the next general election in 2002, both in Dublin and in Wicklow and Cork. Again the party failed to break 2%.
In 2005, the party formed the People Before Profit Alliance. This Alliance consists of the SWP and the smaller Dublin Community Workers and Action Group. From the 2007 general election on, every candidate belonging to either party ran under the People Before Profit banner. It was 2007 which saw the group's first significant improvement on a previous election: though electoral activity was once more withdrawn to Dublin and Wicklow, the party earned 8.9% of the vote in Dún Laoghaire. Two months prior to the election in the Republic, the party also ran for the first time in Northern Ireland: a single candidate in Belfast West receiving 2.3% of the vote there.
For the 2011 general election, the Alliance joined with the Socialist Party and the Workers and Unemployed Action Group to form the United Left Alliance, an electoral alliance in which the three parties ran candidates under a united banner. The ULA won five seats overall, two of them being People Before Profit: Richard Boyd-Barrett receiving an increased 10.9% in Dún Laoghaire, with Joan Collins winning 12.9% in Dublin South Central. The party also ran candidates in Cork North West and Wexford, as well as five other Dublin constituencies, with results ranging between 1.0% and 5.8%. In the Northern Ireland Assembly election of May 2011, the PBPA ran in four constituencies, though neither it nor the Socialist Party ran as the United Left Alliance in this election. It returned an impressive 8.0% in Foyle, though it still failed to win a seat.
The 2011 Dáil election saw the beginnings of a new left-wing presence in Irish politics - a far cry from the situation of the early 90s. What will come of this presence - whether the PBPA will continue to grow or become replaced by another party itself - remains to be seen.
See: The United Left Alliance parties' first preference votes, 2011