He was born in Cork in 1935, and was educated at Coláiste Chríost Rí, the School of Commerce and University College Cork. He became a trade union official with the ITGWU (known later as SIPTU) and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. His father Cornelius (Con) was Lord Mayor of Cork in 1965–66.
Desmond first entered Dáil Éireann at the 1969 general election, when he was elected as a Labour Party Teachta Dála (TD) for Dún Laoghaire and Rathdown. He retained his seat there in 1973 and was then elected in 1977 at Dún Laoghaire, where he won a seat at every election until his retirement from the Dáil in 1989. From 1981 to 1982 he served as Minister of State at the Department of Finance, under Garret FitzGerald as Taoiseach. In 1982, after Michael O'Leary's resignation as Labour Party leader, Dick Spring was elected as the party's new leader and Desmond was chosen as his deputy.
Fine Gael and the Labour Party together gained a majority in the November 1982 general election, and when the 24th Dáil met in December it appointed FitzGerald as Taoiseach. In his second administration, Desmond was appointed Minister for Social Welfare and Minister for Health. In February 1986, FitzGerald intended to appoint him as Minister for Justice in a major cabinet reshuffle; Desmond refused, and Spring supported him in that position. The outcome was that he remained as Minister for Health while Gemma Hussey took on the Social Welfare portfolio. Desmond resigned from his remaining ministerial post on 20 January 1987, along with the other Labour ministers, bringing about the collapse of the government.
At the 1987 general election Fianna Fáil returned to power. Desmond did not contest the 1989 general election, and on 15 June 1989 he was elected as a Labour Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for Dublin. He was a member of the European Court of Auditors from 1994 to 2000, being replaced by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.
He was elected president of the Maritime Institute of Ireland on 18 November 2006. He remains a member of the Council of the Maritime Institute of Ireland. As president he oversaw the revision of its articles of association and the securing of €3.2 million funding for the restoration of Mariners' Church, Dún Laoghaire, which houses the National Maritime Museum of Ireland.
- "Mr. Barry Desmond". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
- "Macroom Road". Millstreet.ie. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
- "Barry Desmond". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
- Kenny, Shane and Keane, Fergal, Irish Politics Now: 'This Week' Guide to the 25th Dáil, Dingle, Co. Kerry: Brandon/RTÉ, 1987, page 66
- Desmond, Barry (June 2009). No Workers' Republic - Reflections on Labour and Ireland 1913–1967. Dublin: Watchword. ISBN 978-0-9557249-3-0.
- European Parliament profile
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