Social Democrats say they will discuss coalition with all like-minded parties

Co-leaders, Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall, rule out merger with Labour Party

Social Democrats co-leaders, Róisín Shortall (right) and Catherine Murphy speak to reporters at the party’s  pre-Dáil meeting on Monday. Photograph: Paul Sharp/Sharppix

Social Democrats co-leaders, Róisín Shortall (right) and Catherine Murphy speak to reporters at the party’s pre-Dáil meeting on Monday. Photograph: Paul Sharp/Sharppix

 

The Social Democrats will “talk to any of the other parties . . . who are prepared to implement social democratic policies” after the next general election, the party said at its think-in in Dublin on Monday.

The two co-leaders, Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall, also confirmed they expected to lead the party into the election, after a group of party activists and councillors called for a leadership election during the summer.

Ms Murphy and Ms Shortall also dismissed questions about a possible merger with the Labour Party. “There is no desire within the Social Democrats for a merger,” Ms Murphy said.

She stressed her party’s openness to women (four of its six TDs are women), and when asked if the Labour Party had “an issue with women”, she said: “I don’t know.” Ms Shortall injected: “we do really, but anyway.”

Ms Shortall suggested that when Labour joined a coalition with Fine Gael in 2011 “they didn’t know why they wanted to be in government and they ended up going along with a lot of things that were anathema to the party and to a lot of Labour supporters.”

Ms Shortall served as a minister of state for health in the coalition, but resigned and later left the party.

Asked about the differences between the Social Democrats and the Labour Party, Ms Shortall replied: “I think there’s an issue of trust within the public. And I know you’ve got to compromise when you go into to government, but you don’t sell your soul.” She also said there were “issues of culture [AND]issues of policy”.

Ms Murphy said the party would be concentrating on housing, reform of the health service and climate change in the forthcoming political term.

Ms Shortall said that waiting lists for healthcare would be one of the most important political issues of the autumn.

She said there were 900,000 people on hospital waiting lists. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” she said.

Ms Shortall also said “we’re going to see a wave of demand for mental health services” as a result of the pandemic.

She called for the extra €4 billion in last year’s health budget to pay for Covid to be retained and reallocated for other purposes, including the implementation of Sláintecare, the far-reaching reform of the health service proposed by an all-party committee which she chaired and which has been adopted by the Government.

Ms Shortall defended the party’s advocacy of “zero Covid” earlier this year, citing the example of low death rates in New Zealand, which successfully suppressed Covid through a rigid system of quarantine and controlled entry to the country.

However, she said “we are where we are now” and said the party was happy with the pace of reopening now.