The Social Democrats: A Party on the Rise

Published on 7 April 2021 at 14:13

The social democrats have received a large influx of new members over the past few months. The small party is just under six years old but had been growing steadily since its inception.The social democrats are known for being in tune with what the public are thinking and engaging in productive, positive politics.As the left of politics in Ireland grows and more parties emerge what is attracting people to this young, socially democratic party.


The party was established in July 2015 by three sitting TD’s. Catherine Murphy had previously been a member of the labour party before running as an independent in 2005.Rosin Shortall served as Minister of State for primary care in the Fine Gael -Labour coalition government.She resigned in her position in 2012 citing issues with the then Health minister James O'Reilly and the new primary care centres. Stephen Donnelly  was the final TD involved in the establishment of the party. Donnelly had been elected as independent in the 2011 general election. The three founding members formed a co-leadership agreement of the party.


The three leaders held their seats in the 2016 election and formed a technical group with the Green Party in the Dail.


Stephen Donnelly left the party in 2016 saying; “with great sadness, having vested so much together with my parliamentary colleagues, Catherine and Roisin, a small core team and many volunteers across the country, into the establishment of the Social Democrats over the last 20 months”. He also stated that "some partnerships simply don't work"  when asked about his fellow leaders. Less than twelve months later in February 2017 he joined Fianna Fail.


The party has been growing steadily since its creation. The party now has six TD’s co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Roisin Shorthall along with Gary Gannon in Dublin Central, Jennifer Whitmore in Wicklow, Cian O’Callaghan in Dublin Bay North and Holly Cairns in Cork South West. The party also has nineteen sitting councillors across the country.Councillor Mary Callaghan ( Ballymun-Finglas) also represents the party as Deputy Lord Mayor of Dublin.


The party outlined several policy positions in the 2020 general election. When the party was launched the founder stated their approach to a Nordic model of social democracy. The party supported the repeal of the 8th Amendment and Ireland membership of the European Union.


During the 2020 general election the party made Slaintecare a core policy. This is a fully costed plan for a universal single tier public health system that would combine social and health care. 


The party also plans to build 100,000 houses over five years mainly on publicly owned land. The party is also committed to introducing legislation to prevent land holding by private entities.


Education was also central to the 2020 general election manifesto. The party wants to make all public schools free, including teaching material and transport. The  social democrats are also committed to working towards smaller class sizes and reducing fees for third level students.


There have been attempts by the Labour party on multiple occasions to perform a merger with the social democrats. It is unsurprising given the history of the co-leaders that this has been rebuffed repeatedly. The most recent attempt came just last week as Labour’s Education spokesperson  Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that a merger between the two parties had “ merit “ he also said that it would be a merger of equals.


It is likely that it is this independent spirit and progressive policies are attracting the new younger members.The lack of history and baggage is very attractive along with the equalitarian image of the party.Who knows where the social democrats will go next.Will the party experience a wave a youth membership as the greens did or will the party maintain and build its profile?

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