Six years after its foundation the Democratic Left was struggling to find a role for itself in Irish politics. An extremely disappointing result in the general elections of 1997, despite what was generally perceived to be an effective and impressive performance by its ministers in the rainbow coalition government, has left the party in a state of shock and disorientation. The continued existence of the party has been called into question. This article seeks to analyse the reasons for the party's failure to make a greater impact, and the state of opinion within the party after the 1997 elections. It argues that Democratic Left confronted a number of serious dilemmas simultaneously: the difficulties of carving out a distinctive niche for a new party within the Irish party system, the challenge of defining a role to the left of the Labour Party in an era of ‘post‐socialism’, and the failure to engage fully with the legacy of the party's own genesis.