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What next for the Social Democrats?

In a shock announcement yesterday, Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly said he is leaving the party.

Image: Sam Boal

THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS party was just a sapling growing roots when, in a shock announcement yesterday, it lost one of its founding members.

The political party is just over a year old, but the face of the party, Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly, announced that he is leaving.

But why?

In a statement confirming his departure, Donnelly said the three-person partnership was just not working.

“It is a fact that some partnerships, in every walk of life, simply don’t work no matter how hard all of the parties to that partnership try to make it succeed,” Donnelly said in a statement.

My decision is based on the fact that for the Social Democrats to achieve its potential as a party of significant influence and scale, despite the many obstacles new parties face, one critical component is that the leadership team must function very well together as a team. In spite of everyone’s best efforts, I have concluded that our partnership did not have that.

Donnelly  - who topped the poll in his constituency of Wicklow and East Carlow  in May – told RTÉ’s Drivetime that it was a “sad day” for him.

He added that everyone involved in the party had “invested a lot in it” in the last year.

However, he hit back at comments made by his former party colleagues, Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall, that he had different expectations of the workload associated with setting up a new party.

The Wicklow TD said it was “unfortunate” the two women were taking that line, describing them as “formidable parliamentarians”.

Yesterday, speculation circulated that dissent had emerged in the ranks in relation to which member might lead the party into the future.

Party member sources said this is not the case, adding there were no power struggles.

“The joint leadership continues on,” said a party spokesperson.

Membership drive

During a recent interview with TheJournal.ie, Catherine Murphy was asked about the party’s plans on selecting a leader.

She said that from September, the party is to begin a party membership drive around the country.

The question of who would lead the party in the next election is a matter for the party members, said Murphy.

There’s so much work, we are just happy dividing it out. We need to allow the membership decide those sort of things. That will be part of some of the rules and regulations we will be considering in our next conference at the end of the year.

Despite some members acknowledging there was something “rumbling away for some time”, many did not expect Donnelly to take the leap.

“I’ve struggled to make sense of the decision,” said party member Glenna Lynch, who ran in the last election in Dublin Bay South.

She said the SocDems will continue on despite losing “the face” of the party. There are other faces, said Lynch.

“Interest and support in the party is growing every day,” she said.

One party source said everything was done behind the scenes to keep Donnelly in the party. “Everything that could be done, was done.”

Discussions were ongoing for some time, with reports that many members tried to “talk him down”.

“Everything was done, but at the end of the day, he had reached his decision,” said one party member.

The future

There was talk that Donnelly might set up another party, or join one of the establishment parties, such as Fianna Fáil.

While he would not be drawn on the issue on RTÉ’s Drivetime yesterday, he did acknowledge that he would one day like to be in government.

One party source said it would not be surprising if Donnelly did opt to join a party such as Fianna Fáil.

Another reason floated for his unexpected departure was the party’s stance on the Apple tax debacle.

However, it’s understood it played no part in the exit of the “accidental politician” (a term Donnelly used to describe himself).

Donnelly has been noticeably absent from the scene since the general election – which was highlighted by those close to the party.

Perhaps it is just a case of his heart no longer being in it.

Donnelly said yesterday it “just isn’t working for me… [that] isn’t right for the party”.

What next for the party?

There is no doubt this has bruised the newest political party on the scene.

However, the Social Democrats has succeeded where other new kids on the block, like Renua, have not.

With a recruitment drive getting underway, the party has no choice but to pick itself up, dust itself off and move on.

That’s exactly what the plan appears to be. Quick to cut ties and just a couple of hours after his departure announcement, the party updated its website and removed traces of Donnelly.

The party website now lists just the two TDs in the Dáil.

However, Donnelly will remain in the same Dáil group as the party, therefore ensuring it retains its speaking rights in the chamber.

With some disillusioned Labour voters looking for a place to rest their support, the Social Democrats can still hedge their bets that growth is on the way.

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Read: Stephen Donnelly won’t rule out joining another party after Soc Dem departure>

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