'We are looking to what lays ahead': Group calls for Social Democrats leadership contest

Senior sources in the party have confirmed that Cork South West TD Holly Cairns is the firm favourite to lead the party within the wider membership
'We are looking to what lays ahead': Group calls for Social Democrats leadership contest

Catherine Murphy, co-leader of the Social Democrats. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The National Executive of the Social Democrats has been called upon to convene a leadership contest by two party councillors and a group of supporters.

In a letter, seen by the Irish Examiner, the group has called on the National Executive to convene a leadership contest, despite those seeking it saying Catherine Murphy and Roisin Shortall, the current co-leaders have done an “exceptional” job.

They say that as we enter the summer break, “we as public representatives and party members have been reflecting, and looking at what is ahead for the Social Democrats. We are a party of activists and campaigners and the pandemic has slowed us down in that regard”.

“We are now ready to move forward again. And we are looking to what lays ahead. We strongly believe that the party is ready for a new phase of development and growth,” the group said.

They say that since 2015 the party has provided a real alternative to the established parties of the state. 

“It is very evident that there is an appetite for the values we share amongst the general public. Our four new and 18 councillors have proven themselves to be exceptional representatives, and community leaders.

“We the undersigned, are writing to, to request that you convene a meeting of the National Executive to activate article 7.3 of the Constitution. As you know, this article states that the National Executive can instigate a leadership contest within the party Such a motion shall require a two thirds majority of the National Executive,” the letter states.

Roisin Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Roisin Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

“We believe this move will solidify vision of the Social Democratic as we prepare for the next elections, and we will accept the collective voice of the members. 

"Our current leadership have done exceptional work in attracting some of the most talented people from our civic society. It is now time for us to move to the next stage, a leadership contest would allow members to a direct say in the future direction of the party,” the letter adds.

Comment from the party has been sought but has not yet been forthcoming.

One of the councillors, Chris Pender, speaking to the Irish Examiner confirmed he signed the letter and that he was uncomfortable with the lack of a contest after the 2020 General Election.

“I have no issue with them being co-leader, but this is a decision that needs to be taken now. The letter was brought to me and I signed. I wasn’t comfortable with not having a leadership contest after the General Election,” Mr Pender said.

Mr Pender said he was not sure of any TD being involved with this move.

Were a contest to be held, senior sources in the party have confirmed that Cork South West TD Holly Cairns is the firm favourite to lead the party within the wider membership.

One source told the Irish Examiner they believed the party would not continue to grow under the current leadership and was “static” under Murphy and Shortall.

There have been a number of ongoing inner debates within the party around social justice issues that have found Ms Shortall at odds with some of her colleagues, which has contributed to the leadership heave.

Senior sources in the party have confirmed that Cork South West TD Holly Cairns is the firm favourite to lead the party within the wider membership.

One source told the Examiner they believed the party would not continue to grow under the current leadership and was “static” under Murphy and Shortall.

Dublin Central TD Gary Gannon has told this publication that he is not in favour of the move.

“This isn’t the time for a leadership contest,” he said.

“Catherine and Roisin have built this party to what it is, and have earned the right to guide us into the next stage of our development. “

It's understood Catherine Murphy was taken by surprise by the letter and a source close to the co-leader has described the move as "a slap in the face".

Party response

In a statement, the party said it is united behind co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall. 

Under their leadership, the party tripled its number of TDs in the 2020 General Election.

We are all focused on continuing our important work holding the government to account, particularly in the areas of housing, health and climate action. 

"We are hugely ambitious for the party – and building a strong social democratic alternative in Ireland.” 

Seperately, the party's General Secretary Brian Sheehan has confirmed he is stepping down from his post however he denied it is anything to do with this demand for a leadership contest.

He told the Irish Examiner that he signalled his intention to step away to the co-leaders some time ago.

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