2015 has seen the arrival of several new political parties in Ireland. Gavin Tracey weighs up the potential electoral success of the three newcomers.
The past few years have been very busy for Irish politics. No longer are the new generation buying into the old trichotomy of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour, and are seeking alternatives. Large scale resistance to the water charges has led to a support for more left-wing alternatives; look for example at Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger or Clare Daly. Sinn Féin have largely taken away the working class vote that would have traditionally gone to Labour and currently hold fourteen seats, and they can expect to gain more in the next election. Independents too have seen a huge increase in support, but this is not without its issues; without a party, they will not have any chance of having a place in any government. It is this that has led to the creation of new political parties. Three of these – the Social Democrats, Anti-Austerity Alliance – People Before Profit (AAA-PBP), and Renua will be examined here.
One of Ireland’s newest political parties, Renua was established in March 2015 by Lucinda Creighton after she was expelled from Fine Gael for voting against the whip. They claim to be “a political party designed for a new age. A modern, open, collaborative party, engaging the nation in a new conversation”, but what sets them apart? Perhaps the only distinction that can be made about Renua is that it is decidedly more capitalist and right-wing than any of the other parties in the Dáil.
Renua recently announced a new proposal which they would implement if elected. They proposed a flat income tax rate of 23 per cent, a measure which would be undoubtedly problematic for thousands of employees across Ireland. Their “one size fits all” approach is elitist in nature, and this proposal is bound to alienate voters. Is an economically right wing and socially conservative political party what Ireland needs right now? It is very unlikely that they will get to implement their plans on a national level, as they have no chance of getting elected, with recent polls suggesting that they have about two per cent support. It is likely that they will go the way of the Progressive Democrats and fade into obscurity.
Large scale resistance to the water charges have led to a support for more left-wing alternatives.
Moving from the right to the left, AAA-PBP has also made some waves on the political scene. This is not a new party as such, but rather an amalgamation of two radical left parties. Their support stems largely from the anti-water charges movement. They are the embodiment of the frustration and anger at the current government. The merger is a peculiar political agreement, with both parties remaining free to hold different opinions on a topic. The merger comes from practical reasons; under Dáil rules, parties with more than seven TDs have full speaking rights. They stand a better chance of winning seats than Renua, with grassroots support in communities that have been worst affected by austerity. However whether or not this anger can sustain itself and become a real political force has yet to be seen. This kind of alliance of the left was seen in 2011 with the United Left Alliance, which won five seats before falling apart.
The Social Democrats holds the most electoral promise out of the three. It was founded this year by TDs Stephen Donnelly, Catherine Murphy, and Róisín Shortall. They are unlike the previous parties in that they have released detailed policies, from tackling the homeless crisis to childcare. They are in favour of abolishing water charges, they call for a 12 month paid parental leave, and they support the repeal of the controversial Eighth Amendment, which was introduced by the current government as a response to Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws. These views will entice many disillusioned, middle-class Labour voters, who don’t want to lend their vote to Sinn Féin. One of their advantages is that they appeal to a middle ground that Labour would previously have held before their time in government. They are also saved from the problem that Sinn Féin faces, which is their history holding them back. This could lead to them winning a good amount of seats in the next general election. Ten election candidates have been announced already since their launch. They provide a balance between the radical left of the AAA-PBP and the neo-conservative Renua, a sort of capitalism with a human face.
In the liberal age that we currently occupy, the Social Democrats are the party that is most likely to succeed amongst middle-class voters. Irish voters, as a whole, are pragmatic in nature. They do not tend to be overly idealistic. There is an awareness amongst voters that politics is problematic; promises will be broken, commitments reneged upon. There is a suspicion surrounding the more radical parties, meaning that parties such as Renua and the AAA-PPP are destined to fade into obscurity. Of all of the new political parties formed in recent years in response to the crisis, the Social Democrats are most likely to succeed, as they occupy the right ground to appeal to the most people.