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6 things you need to know about Ireland's newest political party

What can we expect from the Social Democrats?

IRELAND HAS ANOTHER new political party following the launch of the Social Democrats, or SocDems, by three formerly independent TDs yesterday morning.

Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall have all established themselves as credible and highly-regarded independent deputies over the last few years.

But they’ve decided the best way forward is to band together to pursue a “Nordic model of social democracy” in Ireland.

What are we to make of the Social Democrats? Here are a few things you should know…

1. The party has three leaders 

15/7/2015 New Political Venture called Social Demo Source: Sam Boal

The Social Democrats will be led by the consensus of the three founding deputies until after the next general election when its parliamentary party will elect one leader.

If there is an impasse on any issues then there will be a vote, but Catherine Murphy was particularly excited about the joint-leadership arrangement:

What were are trying to do is create something that we don’t believe exists here in Irish politics, which is a political party and force that combines the very best of economic strength, enterprise, communities, equality and social vision and we all have different strengths in all of those areas.
So how do you bring all of that together, how do you make sure all of that is heard? You create joint leadership. It’ll be up to the next election but it will be through consensus… we are quite excited… so far we are very excited.

2. It wants to repeal the 8th

One issue where there is consensus is on the need to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Constitution regarding the equal right to life of the unborn and the mother.

https://vine.co/v/erAlJ2q0Kbz

What replaces it? The new party doesn’t yet have an answer, as Murphy explained:

It has to be replaced by legislation and there is a variety of views in society which have to be adequately consulted so that legislation really fits the vast majority of people and so they will subscribe to it.

Donnelly later told TheJournal.ie that there would need to be a “serious and in-depth” conversation about what replaces it. He said at the very least he would be in favour of legislating for abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality.

3. It wants to abolish water charges

Donnelly stated definitively that water charges would be abolished under the Social Democrats.

It’s not a red line issue (the party doesn’t have any as yet) but what exactly is being proposed as an alternative? Donnelly explained:

Source: Aoife Barry/TheJournal.ie

By the way, with the day that was in it, Donnelly said he probably would pay his water charges. Murphy and Shortall said they hadn’t.

4. There’s a big focus on childcare 

Shortall said that the party is proposing to extend paid parental leave. It wants a system whereby young babies can be cared for at home for at least the first 12 months. She added:

We are proposing that we establish child clinics in all communities so that we can practice that principle of early prevention [of disease].

5. Surprise surprise, it wants to relax the party whip

Time and time again, people starting new parties or talking about starting new parties complain about the rigid whip system operated by Ireland’s traditional political forces.

Unlike Renua and its commitment to a free vote on poorly-defined ‘conscience issues’, the Social Democrats want a Westminster-style three line whip system whereby its members can vote against the party on occasion and not suffer adverse consequences.

On issues like confidence motions and budgets there will be a stricter whip but the upshot is that the party will advocate for more free votes than most other parties.

15/7/2015 New Political Venture called Social Demo Source: Sam Boal

6. What do we think? 

While Renua has one dominant personality in its leader Lucinda Creighton, the Social Democrats have three very strong and capable politicians in Donnelly, Murphy and Shortall. At the moment, this is the new party’s greatest strength, both in terms of media opportunities and electoral prospects.

There will be some reservations about the idea of a joint leadership particularly if or when the party starts to attract new members from within the pool of existing elected TDs, Senators and councillors. But yesterday’s unveiling was an impressive show and all three deputies were prepared for some awkward questions.

The flesh on the bones in terms of policies will be important. But it will also be important to distinguish themselves from the other new political forces emerging.

That’s the biggest challenge when it comes to appealing to the significant number of voters who are undecided and looking for alternatives to the traditional parties.

Read: Ireland’s newest political party will abolish water charges and repeal the 8th

Stephen Donnelly: This new party is risky, difficult and has no guarantee of succeeding

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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