The Social Democrats is a brand new party led by TDs Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly (previously sitting as independents) and Roisin Shortall (previously Labour). Shortall resigned as Minister of State for Primary Care and also the Labour Party whip over the government lack of support for pledged reforms of the health system and over further cuts to the health service.
The party is socially liberal and economically liberal, while at the same time supporting redistribution of income and the role of the state in provision of public services and welfare. They broadly support a Nordic style system while failing to go into the specifics of how and what they wish to achieve. Their 2016 manifesto contains a certain amount of detail, but hasn’t been costed.
Party representative were strongly in favour of same-sex marriage and campaigned for it, although the party itself did not exist at that point. It backs the repeal of the Eight Amendment to allow for legislation on abortions, and all three of their TDs voted in favour of Clare Daly’s Fatal Foetal Abnormalities Bill in February 2015 (again before the party existed), which would have allowed abortions in the case of foetuses that would not be able to survive outside of the womb. Other than these three and other independent and AAA-PBP TDs, 4 TDs broke their party line by voting in favour of the bill; Anne Ferris (Labour) and Billy Kelleher, Niall Collins and Robert Troy (Fianna Fail).
The party’s strongest area other than social issues is healthcare. They are easily the best party on this issue, advocating what they call an “Irish NHS”, pushing for a national universal healthcare system without a need for private insurance. They also want a more community focused health service with more and better community hospitals to divert elderly and terminal patients, as well as simple routine procedure, away from general hospitals and back to communities so as to treat people in the comfort of their communities, and sometimes homes, while also freeing up hospital beds and reducing pressure on A&E.
They are also strong on education and student focused issues, receiving top marks from the Union of Students in Ireland, strongly opposing religious discrimination in schools (although failed to include this in their manifesto), and supporting comprehensive secular education, free higher education (paid for through general taxation), re-introduction of post-graduate grants. They also oppose Irish Water and JobBridge.
They are the only party that is really honest about taxation, openly admitting that they are going to keep USC at least in the short run, and will increase certain taxation, but will reform the tax system so as to distribute the tax burden, reducing pressure on lower and middle income households. They will offer the public a far better deal in return for their taxes than is offered by Labour, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail or Renua.
They have proven strong and reliable on corruption and cronyism, with Catherine Murphy taking on Denis O’Brien of Independent News & Media, despite the threats of legal action and the media censorship that followed. All three of their sitting TDs have a record of ethical practice.
Will be a good voice for the most vulnerable in society as well as small businesses, but is weak on rural, agricultural and farming issues. They have also refused to rule out a coalition with Fine Gael and Labour, despite hinting at remaining in opposition for the time being. They have a loose whip system allowing their representatives to practice some autonomy in the Oireachtas, however this also means that there’s less of a guarantee of their policies being implemented.