Social Democrats: fighting to be heard

Party has battled to forge a distinct identity in competition with other left-wing groups and an array of Independents

Social Democrats: under joint leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall the party will need hard work and a dollop of luck to get the traction to become a serious force on the left. Photograph: Eric Luke

Social Democrats: under joint leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall the party will need hard work and a dollop of luck to get the traction to become a serious force on the left. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The second national conference of the Social Democrats, which takes place in Dún Laoghaire this weekend, should give a good indication whether the party has a viable long-term future. Founded by three sitting TDs in July 2015, it had high hopes of a breakthrough at the last general election, particularly as one of those TDs, Stephen Donnelly, was widely perceived to have been the star of the television debate featuring all seven party leaders in the Dáil.

Despite that, the Social Democrats came back with the same three TDs who went into the election. Worse was to follow when Donnelly left the party in September 2016 and subsequently joined Fianna Fáil. Reduced to two former Labour Party members, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy, the party refused to throw in the towel and rejected overtures from Labour to form some form of alliance in the Dáil.

With just two TDs it has battled to forge a distinct identity for itself in the Dáil in competition with other left-wing parties and an array of Independents. Its rating of just one per cent in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll indicates how much difficulty the party is having making its voice heard.

A lot of hard work and a dollop of luck will be required to give it the traction it needs to become a serious force on the left in Irish politics. The party did receive a morale boost last year with the addition of three new county councillors to bring its total number to six. It has also put in place a panel of candidates to contest the next election.

In its letter to delegates in advance of this weekend’s conference, the Social Democrats say it is important to discuss the key themes that underpin its vision for a better, fairer Ireland and its concerns in areas such as healthcare, housing and childcare.

So far the party has not spelled out in any great detail how it proposes to tackle all of these important issues. It will need to do so if it is going to be taken seriously as an alternative voice when the next election comes around.

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