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Saturday 9 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
High Table Election Debates

Gannon vs. Nolan: These two lads had a red-hot row about social democracy

In our fourth High Table Election Debate, the Social Democrats go up against Labour.


THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATS mightn’t exist were it not for the widespread perception – false or not – that Labour has broken its promises in government over the last five years.

After all, two of the party’s three leaders are former Labour members and a number of its election candidates are former Labour politicians.

But one man who isn’t ex-Labour is Gary Gannon, a councillor in Dublin’s inner city, who is running for the SocDems in Dublin Central.


Gannon believes Labour may have inherited a broken economy but, through its actions over the past five years, is leaving behind a “society devastated”.

Derek Nolan, a Labour TD for Galway West, disagrees. He thinks it’s very easy for the SocDems to give out in opposition but that it’s “a lot harder to roll up your sleeves and go in and do it”.


So with such strong differences of opinion we thought we’d get these two young, tall, red-headed politicians to come in and debate the issues:

Nicky Ryan /

The best bits

1. No costings, no point 

From the start Nolan was annoyed at Gannon’s sharp criticism of Labour’s record in government. The SocDem hopeful highlighted the doubling of child poverty and crises in housing and healthcare, but the Labour deputy was particularly incensed by the SocDems’ failure to cost its manifesto:

Listen, we’ve just come through a financial crisis, the last thing we need to do is put in place people who have not actually decided or costed what they want to do for the next five years.

Nicky Ryan /

Gannon insisted the SocDems’ 10-year manifesto is “a vision statement which lays out your priority as a party of where you would like to take this country”.

2. The cost of living crisis 

One thing the Social Democrats have zeroed in on is the rising cost of living. Rather than cut taxes, as other parties are proposing, the SocDems want to reduce the cost of everyday expenses like childcare and education.

Gannon argued that the SocDems’ 60-page manifesto sets out this vision for the country:

We’ve released a pre-budget submission which is fully costed, we’ve released a 60-page manifesto about which direction we want to take this country.

But Nolan said the pre-budget manifesto had nothing about the so-called living wage or other social democratic principles. That prompted another heated back-and-forth:

Nicky Ryan /

3. Water charges 

When the SocDems launched last summer, Nolan wrote a scathing piece about the new party for in which he slammed the leadership’s decision not to pay their water charges and asked if the SocDems even believe in the rule of law.

Gannon said he hasn’t paid his charges, claiming he can’t afford to with the amount of rent he pays:

Nicky Ryan /

The above clip also contains one of the put-downs of the election so far with Gannon asking Nolan:

Derek, I read that article you wrote for The Journal, it was fairly embarrassing. Did you spend a lot of time on that?


4. Alan Kelly 

These days it wouldn’t be an interview or debate involving any Labour representative without mentioning the party’s ubiquitous deputy leader.

alan-kelly-0808 Eamonn Farrell Eamonn Farrell

Alan Kelly has been in the spotlight for a variety of reasons – mostly the wrong ones – in recent days and Gannon thinks the Environment Minister is a bit of an embarrassment for Labour.

Nolan is lukewarm in his praise of Kelly and takes a while to answer a killer question from Gannon:

Nicky Ryan /

5. ‘Airy fairy aspirations’ 

Throughout the debate Nolan is frustrated by what he believes to be a lack of detail from Gannon and the SocDems on policy. At one point, towards the end, he said:

It’s important, however, that the national things you’re [Gannon] talking about should talk about: this is what you want to do for [the next] five years, not kind of airy fairy aspirations that you may or may not do and you’ve no costings for it.

But Gannon responds by rejecting the notion of Labour having had to make “tough decisions” in government:

Nicky Ryan /

6. Still, they could work together 

Despite squabbling throughout, there appears to be some form of consensus by the end with Gannon saying the SocDems would work with any party “willing to implement a social democratic programme in government”.

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 15.06.47

Nolan couldn’t resist one last dig before acknowledging that he could work with the SocDems:

Well, I’d like to see their programme first and then maybe we could negotiate on it. But I work with people from all parties in the Dáil. I’m a backbench TD and I’d certainly be willing to do it in the future.

With that friendly conclusion, it’s back to the campaign trail.

Ryan vs. McCarthy: These two lads had a mighty row about the trauma of government

Lucinda vs. Donnelly: These two may sound like one, but they insist they’re not the same

McGrath vs. McGrath: These lads had a lively (and hilarious) row in our office

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