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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 24 April, 2019
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Canvassing with the Soc Dems on rainy Grafton Street: 'You're kicking ass'

The Social Democrats were out in force for a Dublin city centre canvass this afternoon.

STEPHEN DONNELLY IS standing in a huddle of party supporters on Dublin’s Grafton Street.

“You’re kicking ass,” he tells one candidate as purple badges and posters are handed out around them.

Moments earlier, the three leaders of the Social Democrats had swaggered up the rain-drenched road to the snapping of photographers.

unnamed Source: RollingNews.ie

Despite the weather, Donnelly, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy appeared to be in high spirits for this afternoon’s canvass.

The latest Red C poll has the party at 4% support – not bad considering it has only three elected TDs.

When the photos are finished, the three mingle in the crowd, chatting to the predominantly young supporters that have turned out for the event.

There are no suited aides ushering them around.

One party organiser tells me they have fewer than 10 staff at their headquarters.

The Social Democrats are running 14 candidates around the country and hope to win at least seven Dáil seats to gain regular speaking rights.

But they refuse to be drawn into speculation about post-election negotiations.

Are voters not entitled to know their “red-line” issues?

“I think people know what we’re about,” Shortall says.

We’re talking about creating high-quality public services that everyone can benefit from and developing a strong economy.

unnamed (5) Source: RollingNews.ie

She insists the party has no intention of simply making up the numbers for government or creating a “shopping list” of demands.

“We have set out a very clear plan, a value-based manifesto based on bringing honesty and fairness into politics,” she says.

If parties are interested in talking to us about that, we’re happy to do that.

Donnelly strikes a similar tune: “There’ll be no conversation about maintaining the status quo.

If people agree with us that we need to go on a better path based on social democratic values … we will have that conversation with them.

unnamed (2) Source: RollingNews.ie

But there are key differences between the Social Democrats and other parties, he says.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are all about incrementalism, saying: ‘Maybe we’ll build a primary centre here and one there. Sure let’s hire a few more A&E staff.’

The Soc Dems instead see the need to “stop, think and start talking about creating systems that work”.

The healthcare system is clearly broken, for example. We’ve some of the best trained clinicians in the world in one of the most expensive systems in the world but we all know it doesn’t work.

Tax is another big concern for the party.

They have repeatedly hit out Fine Gael and Labour proposals to cut the USC, arguing that the €4 billion it generates annually is vital for public investment.

“We’ve set the agenda in this campaign in saying we want to build better public services over eroding the tax base,” Murphy says.

unnamed (6) Source: RollingNews.ie

Donnelly cites the worsening global economy as an important reason for why current tax rates should be maintained.

“One of the ways you respond to that is by not eroding the tax base,” he says.

Something we are doing – which others aren’t – is looking outwards.

The message is not one Seán Whelan, a council worker who stops to talk to the group, agrees with.

Whelan unzips his backpack to show Shortall his most recent payslip.

unnamed (1) Source: RollingNews.ie

Whelan is an undecided voter but he thinks the USC should be completely abolished.

He tells me later he earns just over €500 a week after tax deductions.

“I don’t know much about [the Social Democrats],” he admits.

Every party has a handful of good ideas so I’m open to everyone at the moment.

In the space of 40 minutes, I see just one other passer-by stop to talk to candidates.

The sea of purple was met with little reaction from members of the public hurrying along in the rain.

But with poll results raising the prospect of a hung Dáil, the SocDems are likely to be in the mix as coalition talks kick off next week.

What they are willing to compromise on remains to be seen.

Read: What’s it like to be a first-time candidate? We went canvassing to find out

Read: People are bankrupting themselves to help the SocDems – Catherine Murphy

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About the author:

Catherine Healy

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