Proinsias De Rossa may not be known to the world at large but he is one of the prominent politicians in Ireland in the last half century. His political career started in 1956 at age 16 when he joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and became politically active with the Sinn Fein party. He served seven months in prison at Mountjoy Prison in Dublin for his activities with the IRA. Afterwards he began a hardworking political career that saw him become the Leader of the Workers Party from 1988 to 1992. Later he had important positions such as Ireland’s Minister for Social Welfare from 1994 to 1997, as well as Leader of Democratic Left from 1992 to 1999. Furthermore, he was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2012. DeRossa was elected to the Teachta Dala, the lower chamber of the Irish Parliament, in 1982 and served until 2002, representing a district in his native Dublin.
Proinsias De Rossa is one of the most Irish accomplished politicians in recent memory yet he never let his stuttering stand in his way.
When he stepped down from his seat in Parliament in 2012, he said, “My work as a public representative for 30 years, and before that my 25 years as a grassroots political activist, has always been motivated with a desire to change society for the better. I have dedicated all my energies to the pursuit of peace and the elimination of poverty and inequality through peaceful change, and the deepening of democracy.”
Throughout his career in the public eye, De Rossa regularly mentioned his stuttering. A July 14, 1997 article in the Irish Times titled “School Days Were Not Happy for Proinsias De Rossa” quotes him as saying, “I looked forward to school but once I got there I detested it. I was shy and it wasn’t until I actually started school that I became aware I had a stammer.”
An article in the Irish Examiner on January 17, 2012, “De Rossa Set to Retire After 13 Years as an MEP”, conveyed how the prominent politician refused to let his stuttering sidetrack his career. “Mr. De Rossa, who never let a prominent stammer hold him back in public life, said he spent long enough in front line politics.”
In 2010, there was an incident involving De Rossa that received national attention. He was being interviewed by phone on RTE radio by Pat Kenny, when someone broke in and apparently made the repeated sound of a stammer in a mocking fashion. An investigation by RTE, the national broadcaster of Ireland, was unable to figure out what the sound was or where it had come from. Some observers felt it was bad prank to ridicule De Rossa’s stuttering. An April 15, 2010, article in the Irish Independent began with, “RTE has denied responsibility for an embarrassing phone line interruption during Pat Kenny’s interview with Proisinias De Rossa. Listeners to Mr. Kenny’s radio show heard what appeared to be someone mimicking the sound of a stutter live on the air.”
Proisinias De Rossa is affiliated with the Irish Stammering Association and from the start of his career has always publicly acknowledged his stuttering. Ireland is fortunate to have such a distinguished and high-profile person who stutters to be both an inspiration and a role model.