‘I’ll Be Going Into Conversations With A Very Open Mind’


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Roisin Shortall, Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly at the launch of the Social Democrats in July 2015

Further to Stephen Donnelly’s announcement earlier today that he is leaving the Social Democrats.

The Wicklow/east Carlow TD spoke to Mary Wilson on RTÉ’s Drivetime this evening.

From the interview…

Mary Wilson: “Were you overwhelmed by the dedication it takes?”

Stephen Donnelly: “No, not at all, Mary. But can I start, I’ll come directly back to that, can I just say today’s decision is, is a very sad one for me personally. It’s one that I’ve thought about long and hard. Catherine [Murphy], Roisin [Shortall] and myself have been working on this for nearly two years. I consider it a great privilege to have worked with Catherine and Roisin. They’re two formidable parliamentarians. I feel, I consider it a great privilege to have worked with our candidates in the election and everyone who’s been involved in the Social Democrats. So, first and foremost, for me, I just want to say that this, this is a sad day – we’ve all invested a lot in it. To your question: look, I think it’s an unfortunate line that Catherine and Roisin are taking. Nobody can start a new political party work-shy. I’ve certainly been accused of all manner of things in my time. But nobody has ever accused me of being work-shy. Look, the reality is we all worked very, very hard on this and I have concluded, sadly, after nearly two years at it, the team, it’s not that it wasn’t working, I think we got some great things done together. It wasn’t working well enough and it just wasn’t working well enough for me. And Mary, anybody who’s listening to the show will understand. Will have been involved in a sports team or a business or whatever it may be. They come together with a good group of people, everybody tries to make it work and, after a reasonable period of time, in this case, for me, nearly two years, somebody on that team, or more people on the team say, ‘do you know what? Look, we’ve all been trying, it just isn’t working for me, this is no longer the right thing for me to be doing’. And so I’m stepping back. That’s what’s going on.”

Wilson: “Or, you could conclude, from the tone of the contributions from Roisin and Catherine, and now from yourself and your statement today, you’re not a team player.”

Donnelly: [Laughs] “Yeah, I don’t think anyone is kind of, who works with me in politics or outside of politics, would conclude that. You can suggest it, but I mean…”

Wilson: “Well I’m reading the line in your own statement, where you say, ‘despite the many obstacles new parties face, one critical component is that the leadership team must function very well together as a team, in spite of everyone’s best efforts, I have concluded our partnership didn’t have that’. You didn’t have that.”

Donnelly: “Maybe, maybe. Am I partly to blame for it? Absolutely I am. In any relationship, in this case, where I was in a relationship where I was in a three-way partnership, of course, there are things I could point to and say, you know, did I always preform at my best – of course not. None of us ever do. It’s a team effort. We all tried, we all did things right, we all made mistakes and, sadly, I have concluded, after a considerable period of time, and after a lot of conversation, and talking to Catherine and Roisin about this, for some time, it isn’t right for me, and it isn’t right for the party either, and that’s the decision I’ve taken.”

Wilson: “So will you continue on now, as an Independent? Or would you, at some stage, in the future, consider joining another party? Or founding another party?”

Donnelly: “Well, look, my head, for the last two years, has been in Social Democrats and my head, over the last few weeks, has been only in whether or not to stay and continue to make a try. I can concluded some time ago that it probably wasn’t right but I, you know, kept going, gave every chance and, by the way, as did Catherine and Roisin. We all tried.”

Wilson: “It must have been an awful blow to you, Stephen Donnelly, I mean you came close in a couple of constituencies in the election, but that you didn’t add value to the party. You’re still there with the three TDs that you entered the last election with.”

Donnelly: “Yeah, yeah, it is a blow, there’s no question about it. It’s been a tough week. I’ve been speaking during the week with people involved in the party, who I care a great deal for and, you know, any of us, with our work colleagues, we feel a sense of obligation, we feel a loyalty, we feel a debt of gratitude, so yes, it does come as a blow. However, if we move from the personal to the professional, I’m elected to do the best job I can do, to serve my constituents here in Wicklow, west Carlow and to serve the country as best I can. And I concluded that I was no longer doing that in the Social Democrats.”

Wilson: “I know but you concluded two years ago that your best way of serving your constituents was to be part of a political party, to move forward the changes that you wanted to bring forward. Now you’re concluding you’re better off as an Independent, or are you?”

Donnelly: “Well, no, all I’m doing today, Mary, is concluding, or announcing the decision I concluded a few days ago, is to say, I can’t serve my constituents and my country as best as I want to within the situation I was in. Like, Catherine, Roisin and myself, everyone who got involved in the Social Democrats, and by the way, I wish the party the very best, we tried to do something very, very difficult to do and if you try these things, you have to be prepared to fail. Now, let me be absolutely clear, I am not suggesting, in any way, that the party has failed, it hasn’t. But for me, my involvement has, had got to the point where I said, ‘no, look, this just isn’t the right place for you to be anymore’. But you have to take those risks. I mean politics needs to be shaken up, we need people in there who are willing to stick the head above the parapet and say ‘look, here’s a set of values we all believe in, let’s try and make this work, let’s try and work together and affect good, positive change in the country’. There is so much opportunity and, you know, other parliamentarians and myself, we’ve got to be able to take risks and that’s what this was.”

Wilson: “Would you take the risk again? Would you join an existing political party?

Donnelly: “Oh look, for two years, or nearly two years, I’ve been involved in the Social Democrats, the last few weeks, I’ve just been thinking about whether or not to do that, today, I’m just announcing, ‘look, I’m stepping back, it’s a hard decision’. I will be consulting with supporters in Wicklow, I started doing it today. There will be people coming into the office this evening and I’m going to be around the county over the next few days. So, that is a conversation that will have to be had. It will be had quickly and it will be had with my supporters.”

Wilson: :You must look though, at some of the Independent colleagues you had in the past, you see them in Government now: Shane Ross, Katherine Zappone, you see the opportunity they have, perhaps, to implement some of the policies that they want to implement. You’d like a slice of that.”

Donnelly: “I think anyone who has the great honour of being elected to the Dail, or the Seanad, or in this case, I guess, the Dail, should aspire to office, but like let’s not forget the vulture fund decision, let’s take that as an example. I think, Minister Ross, Minister Zappone, and I imagine other Independents involved there, would appear to have forced that over the line. But myself and Pearse Doherty and Michael McGrath and others, from outside of Government, have been raising these issues in the last few months and there’s been fantastic work done by RTE, by Prime Time, by journalists like Mark Paul, in the Irish Times, and others, so, it’s not that if you’re in Government, you have all the power and all the influence and, if you’re not, you don’t. You can influence the direction of the country from anywhere. From you, your colleagues in the media, me, my colleagues in the opposition benches, or indeed within Government. This vulture fund decision which was taken today, is an example of that. I wrote to the charity regulator before the [Dail] break and said, ‘Look, are you aware that this is going on with charities in the country? Would you take a look?’ and they got back to me, just about two days ago, and said, ‘you know what? we are going to take a look. So you can affect positive change from anywhere but, if you’re asking me straight, would I love to be in Government one day? Of course I would. I’d be astounded to hear any TD say that they wouldn’t.”

Wilson: “Say differently. Would you be open to an approach from another political party? Would you open to an approach from Fianna Fáil? Or would you immediately say, ‘no, ideologically, I could never join that party’?”

Donnelly: “No, I’m just not there, Mary. That’s exactly the kind of conversation I’m going to have with my supporters here in Wicklow over the next few days and next few weeks.”

Wilson: “But that in itself is interesting, that that is the conversation you’re having about where you go from here. Whether it’s into another political party or whether you’re not definite back to the road of the Independent.”

Donnelly: “No, look the objective, if you’re lucky enough to be elected to serve, in my case, to represent the people of Wicklow and east Carlow, you always want to do that to the best of your ability. I’ve done it as an Independent, I’ve done it as the founder of a party, so I’ll be going into conversations here in Wicklow with a very open mind, you know, I want to serve, I want to do the best job that I can. There’s a huge opportunity out there for the country, there’s a lot of people who were left behind in the recession, there’s a lot of important work to be done. And I want to be involved in doing it.”

Wilson: “Will you stay in politics long-term Stephen Donnelly? You never struck me as a lifer?”

Donnelly: “I’m certainly an accidental politician. There’ no question about that. Before 2011, I don’t know if I’d ever met a politician to be honest, I’d certainly never been in a political party and I’d been out of the country for ten years. I got involved, Mary, I think actually your show was one of the first ones I went on, I remember my hand shaking…”

Wilson: “I remember that too.”

Donnelly: “…for the first time, I was so nervous. And I read out a statement and tried to sound confident. I got in, in response to the crisis, I just wanted to help. My mum spent a long career in public service as a teacher and in a girls’ reformatory, as with the hundreds of thousands of public servants around the country. I like working for my country. I’d no idea how I’d find politics, it’s been bizarre and rewarding and difficult and an incredible honour. I really had no idea…”

Wilson: “Will you stay in politics?”

Donnelly: “That’s a question for the people of Wicklow and east Carlow. My answer is I would very much like to continue to represent them but it is their seat and they get to decide that, not me.”

Listen back in full here

Earlier: Stephen Gonnelly

Sam Boal/Rollingnews

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51 thoughts on “‘I’ll Be Going Into Conversations With A Very Open Mind’

    1. Sheik Yahbouti

      My one restoration in voting Social Democrat, which I did, was the presence of an obvious PD amongst them. Had hoped that the influence of Shorthall and Murphy might soften the eye to the main chance and the “pragmatism”, but apparently not.

        1. sǝɯǝɯʇɐpɐq

          Reservation NOT restoration, mind your own business, predictive text – hate it.

          -You should write lyrics for The Fall. You’re really good at it.

  1. Joe cool

    If he goes and joins fg or ff or labour , then the last shred of anything I’ve had for politics will be gone

    1. :-Joe

      Apart from the so-called “hard left wing” etc., I was thinkinking the same thing.

      I had hoped the SD’s might help forge a path for a bigger or newer more modern progressive political pary.

      Clearly I’m not as cool as you yet though.


    1. some old queen

      I very much doubt if he will join SF Frilly. There is a two year waiting list while they sniff down their noses, Maybe that is a jurisdictional issue eh?

  2. Junkface

    I like Stephen and the SD’s, but jayzus, if he joined FF or FG I would lose all respect for him. They are the problem with Ireland and how its run, when it comes down to it. And they will never change

    1. Frilly Keane

      He’s no more joining that pair than I am

      He’s going join Shane Ross and Zappone

      Watch Enda dump Kehoe or Mary Mitchell etc or one a’the other useless FG Government gimps and shore up annuder Government vote for Regina to count on

  3. louis lefronde

    My guess is Fianna Fail are lining him up.

    But he would be better off leading a centre-ground liberal party that appeals to the 20% of the population that pays 80% of direct income tax and who just so happen to be predominantly graduates.

    1. curmudgeon

      Not a chance, Lee was a fool. Well meaning but utterly naive. Of course when Lee was screaming on rte news about the oncoming financial disaster the public took note and promptly voted him in. The powers that be decided they can’t be having a repeat of that and so rte news current financial go to guy is the meekest, least controversial suit they could find.

  4. :-Joe

    I hope he won’t allow himself to get asymilated into the slow molasses-like turgid poop that is Irish politics and it’s policy making.

    ..Honestly, would you be surprised if it did happen?

    Ye, maybe for half an hour then you just do what you always do, wait until the next election ding-dong circus comes into town and pin your hopes on some more wide-eyed, optimistic fresh meat.

    Quote from the establishment :
    – “Ah, shure look at Donnelly now, I see that stage one of the progresive spirit breaking process is now complete, hehehe”.



  5. Louis Lefronde

    After my earlier comment, the thought came to me….don’t Renua or Redundant as I prefer to call them have €250,000 grand in the bank and no TD?

    Apart from the fact that they drew support from those horrible conservatives…

    Now If they were ditched, and the name was changed to the Liberal Party with ‘The Egg’ in charge. I could see very interesting times ahead. Of course the usual economic lefties, blue shirts and FF (progressive tax thieves) would shout ‘Ah, it’s the PDs in disguise!’ But who cares, Ireland needs a centre ground party that is socially liberal and truly progressive economically. A party that represents graduates and new Irish who pay the overwhelming majority of direct taxes for little or no return. The Egg fits the profile perfectly. I say Liberal (and to hell with the socialists and conservatives who don’t like the word) because the Lib Dems in the UK have always drawn most their support from professionals, students, academics and non-conformists…. A bit like the profile of a typical Broadsheet subscriber. Or alternatively look at the FDP in Germany.

    The days of the big parties is over. As their voting base gets older, and education standards rise – niche parties or subsidiary parties will form. In many ways this is happening already as we have market segmentation of the political parties. In other words, not everyone likes a Mars Bar (Fianna Fáil) but they might like a Milkyway ( Mars light) and vote accordingly.

    1. Rob_G

      “The days of the big parties is over.”

      FF and FG took 93 seats between them. Also, I imagine that the electorate might soon tire of the smaller parties who are happy to sit in permanent opposition and achieve nothing.

      1. Nigel

        One day the electorate will make a connection between small parties sitting in opposition achieving nothing and their own disenchantment with largely discredited big parties somehow always ending up returned in large enough numbers to form governments. Not soon, perhaps, but one day.

        1. Rob_G

          I don’t know – a number of these parties have indicated that they have no intention of entering govt as anything other than the largest party; voting for a party with a small number of seats who follow this policy is the definition of throwing your vote away.

          1. Nigel

            Or the definition of trying to think long-term and trying to support a party that won’t make you gag in the hope that it’ll build support and grow over time until it can become more effective. Going into government too soon with a party whose policy decisions will utterly destroy you is the definition of throwing away the votes you received. Constantly voting for big parties and then complaining that it’s always the same old parties getting into power is the definition of something all right.

          2. Rob_G

            If a party has no track record in Govt, people aren’t going to flock to vote to them as you seem to think they will.

            FF or FG have been a part of every single govt to date, and are likely to be for the considerable future. They appeal to the electorate, and the people vote for them, for better or worse. Smaller parties have two options:

            (i) enter govt and get as many of the their policies enacted as they can, which will of course involve compromising on their other policies, or

            (ii) sit in the opposition benches, keeping themselves ideologically pure and enacting none of their policies.

          3. Louis Lefronde

            They largely appeal to that proportion of the population over fifty who vote. The turnout in elections is skewed towards what older people want….and don’t forget the overwhelming majority of them left school after the Inter-Cert!

          4. Nigel

            This is an attitude towards opposition that will help ensure domination by big parties. Time in opposition is honourable, and can be used by small parties to establish themselves and build support. I imagine big parties love it when small new parties rush into coalition with them while they’re still relatively weak and inexperienced. Theyre just political cannon fodder. Framing it as a devotion to ‘ideological purity’ is a useful narrative for the big parties so long as it can be used to steamroll coalition partners into indefensible compromises. The point of opposition is to hold government to high standards.

          5. Rob_G

            “Time in opposition is honourable, and can be used by small parties to establish themselves and build support.”

            – unlikely to garner enough support for a single-party govt, I think you will agree.

            If every party took this line, the parliamentary system would be crippled. SF, PBP/AAA, SDs and the left-wing Indies had a load of seats at the last election; enough to present FF with a list of demands and try to come to some sort of a deal. But no, its much better for your reelection chances to pick up your cheque every month and leave the business of governing to the grown-up parties…

          6. Nigel

            ‘– unlikely to garner enough support for a single-party govt, I think you will agree.’

            Why walk before you can crawl? It’s like people expect to click their fingers and suddenly viable alternative single-government parties appear.

            ‘But no, its much better for your reelection chances to pick up your cheque every month and leave the business of governing to the grown-up parties…’

            It’s certainly better for your re-election chances not to go into government as a junior partner with a party who will enact policies to which you are completely opposed, and for which you will take a disproportionate amount of the blame.

      2. Louis Lefronde

        It used to be a lot more. And anyone with a brain can see the tactic (spin) that ‘the public will soon tire of small parties… Seriously so nakedly obvious that one.

    2. Caroline™

      I think those graduates might have gotten their return on tax paying front-loaded…

      But yes, there may very well be a gap in the market of the kind you describe. Although the fact that a successful party so au fait with the market has not emerged under these otherwise ideal circumstances is puzzling… either there is no gap, and the party has correctly realised this, or there is a gap, but the party is not good enough at free market analysis to capitalise on it :)

      It seems that public opinion is currently skeptical of globalisation and very economically liberal ideas. Renua is all but extinct, the FDP is on life support, even the Lib Dems, who have less in common with the former two parties, are in probably terminal decline. Protectionism is in, baby. In fact, there’s more chance of an AfD-style party taking off here than the clean-cut FPD men.

      1. Louis Lefronde

        Interesting Caroline, but I disagree, just look at the Canadian Liberals bucking the trend. And being Canadian, I know how similar they are to the Lib Dems. Protectionism as put it, might be a wet dream of The Trumpkins but Free Trade will always win out.

        There is room for a Liberal party, it just needs the right people right now

        1. Caroline™

          Bucking the trend is putting it a bit mildly, isn’t it? They’ve been in power in Canada for pretty much ever. I’m not sure they’re a natural comparison, even though they have plenty else in common with the Lib Dems. But if you’re selling Trudeau, then hell yeah sold.

          1. louis lefronde

            Caroline, I’m more handsome than Trudeau….

            Actually, given that I have an Irish mother (which qualifies me for something other than a ‘clip-on-the-ear’) I reckon I would be an outstanding candidate to lead a Liberal Party in Ireland.

            Lefronde, C’est moi!

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