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Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall Leah Farrell
co leaving

'Right time to hand over reins': Murphy and Shortall step down as SocDem co-leaders

The two TDs announced that a leadership election would take place at an “early date”.

LAST UPDATE | 22 Feb 2023

CATHERINE MURPHY AND Róisín Shortall have announced they are stepping down as co-leaders of the Social Democrats, saying that the time is right to hand over the “leadership reins”.

At a press conference this afternoon, Murphy and Shortall confirmed that they would be stepping down from their leadership role and that a new leader would be elected by the party at an “early date”.

“As the Social Democrats continue to develop and grow, Catherine and I have decided that the time is right now to hand over the leadership reins of the party to the next generation of Social Democrats,” Shortall said.

“We have therefore notified our National Executive that we are stepping down as joint leaders and we have requested that they make arrangements for the election of a new leader and and we expect that this will take place at an early date.”

Shortall confirmed that the election of a new leader would allow for either a single candidate or joint candidacy, but said it would be up to the party’s four other TDs – Gary Gannon, Holly Cairns, Jennifer Whitmore and Cian O’Callaghan – to decide that.

When the four TDs were asked about putting their names forward, none ruled it out but said that today was for both Murphy and Shortall.

Both Murphy and Shortall confirmed that they did not intend to leave politics and that they would run again at the next General Election.

Shortall said that they had thought about stepping down “for many months” but that they only decided on a date in recent weeks.

“It takes a while to come to a decision that you definitely want change and that now is the right time for that,” Shortall said.

“I think it’s just the right time to do it,” Murphy added.

When asked about a potential merger with Labour, Murphy rubbished the idea and said that “the last thing we need is less choice in politics”.

Shortall added that she didn’t believe that the new leader would look to facilitate a merger.

Speculation as to who the next leader of the party has already begun, with Cairns being considered the frontrunner.

This evening, O’Callaghan said that he had not decided whether or not to run in the leadership contest.

“I’ll be talking to supporters in my constituency over the next few days and taking soundings on it. So not ruling myself in or out at this stage,” O’Callaghan told RTÉ DriveTime.

When he was asked about speculation that Cairns could be the next leader, O’Callaghan said that she would be a “fantastic leader” of the party.

Shortall and Murphy founded the party in 2015, alongside Stephen Donnelly, who later left before joining Fianna Fáil in 2017.

The party increased their representation in the Dáil from two to six in the 2020 General Election, with TDs Gannon, Cairns, Whitmore and O’Callaghan being elected.

Murphy has been a TD for Kildare North since 2011, while Shortall has represented Dublin North-West since 1992. Shortall was previously a junior health minister in the 2011 Fine Gael-Labour coalition.

At the party’s think in last September, Murphy was asked if the two co-leaders would lead the party into the next General Election and said that it was their intention “at the moment”.

There had previously been calls from within the party for a leadership contest, with a letter signed by 16 party members which included councillors Cat O’Driscoll and Chris Pender.

In response, a statement from the Social Democrats parliamentary party said it is “united behind co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall”.

With reporting by Christina Finn

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