ON SATURDAY afternoon, on MacCurtain St, in Cork City, dozens of volunteers will attend the inaugural meeting of the Social Democrats’ Cork north-central branch. They’ll come armed with hope, aspirations, and questions.
Irish voters, especially those impacted by the economic downturn, are seeking a fresh voice in politics.
As a party with two TDs, we have to fight harder to get our message across and to have our voice heard — but we are punching above our weight and have called in reinforcements.
We have hired new staff, who will develop the party and build it across Ireland. They will take up their positions in time for the resumption of the Dáil, while we recruit new members and establish new branches.
In November, the party will host its first national conference, where our plans for the future will be debated and analysed. We believe our supporters are the party, and so their input will shape our policy decisions and direction.
Since it’s foundation, in July of last year, the Social Democrats have prioritised policies that will create a strong, prosperous, fair, and democratic country.
At the cornerstone of the party is the belief that public services must be better-resourced, whether that’s in childcare, transport, housing, or health.
Under the last Fine Gael-Labour government, cuts to public services had a devastating impact, resulting in a growing housing-and-homelessness problem and widespread rural isolation.
We have led the call for an anti-corruption agency, we played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Siteserv investigation, and successfully called for the new, all-party Dáil committee on the future of heatlh care (chaired by Róisín Shortall, TD).
And we’re only getting started.
We believe that building towards an Irish ‘National Health Service’ is crucial if we are to fix our current health-service structure.
To do that, we need to take a long term view — not to be hand-tied by party politics and a fixation on the election cycle.
A small nation like ours should not have a two-tier health system, by which the wealthy receive adequate medical attention and the less well-off are forced to wait months for appointments and vital procedures. More investment in primary care is a must.
We want to reduce the cost of living and develop sensible, achievable, and sustainable policies to make that happen.
Ireland is the fourth-most expensive country in the EU, yet our public services lag so far behind those of other countries. It’s inexcusable that young drivers are paying thousands of euro each year for car insurance and that families pay huge chunks of their wages on childcare.
Building on the establishment of the Siteserv commission, we will seek to expose corruption and responsibly bring to attention clear wrong-doings, so that action can be taken for the good of the Irish public.
We support the campaign to remove the Eighth Amendment from the Constitution, and will fight for greater equality in society, as we did, to great effect, in the marriage-equality referendum.
As a party, we are partly inspired by the Nordic model of social democracy, and we will seek to learn from public-policy decisions there, which we believe could transfer, just as effectively, to our shores.
Over the course of the next Dáil term, we will also bring forward policies to assist job-creation, especially in small- and medium-sized enterprises. The Social Democrats are pro-business and believe that a strong, flexible economy must go hand-in-hand with policies that protect all the people of the nation, and ensure the gap between the haves and have-nots, which widened so glaringly in recent years, will be reduced.
The fall-out from the Brexit result in the UK is likely to impact negatively on all aspects of our economy, and we will continue to put pressure on our Government to prepare for that inevitability.
In being the first party to strongly resist the removal of the universal social charge, we showed that we are not a populist party. Where difficult, but responsible, decisions are to be made we won’t hide.
Make no mistake. We want to be in government in the future — but not to prop up an administration in which we have no confidence.
Though it is far from perfect, this era of ‘New Politics’ does offer small parties and independents a greater opportunity to make a difference, and we’ll grab those opportunities in the months ahead.
These are exciting times for our party and, of course, there will be stumbles along the way.
But we can promise all those who come to our meeting in Cork, on Saturday, and those who want a more progressive and fair Ireland, that we’re not going anywhere — the Social Democrats are here to stay.