From top: The Social Democrats canvassing on Grafton Street, Dublin 2 during the General Election 2016 campaign last February; Gary Gannon.
Losing a founder member is a blow, but the Social Democrat ranks are brimming with people of exceptional calibre who remain committed to the movement.
Gary Gannon writes:
I celebrated an anniversary this week. On September 4 it was exactly one year to the day that I was launched as a candidate for the Social Democrats. The Party had itself only recently been announced at the end of that July and I was among our first wave of new candidates.
It was an unfortunate coincidence that this anniversary coincided with the departure from the Social Democrats of one of our founding members.
I had considered not mentioning Stephen’s decision to leave the party this week but had I of done so; I would have waived the opportunity to thank Stephen for helping to build this political party where I now feel so at home.
If a week is a long time in politics, then I assure you that a year can feel almost like an eternity when one finally stops to reflect on all that has occurred in those intervening 365 days.
In joining the Social Democrats I never sought a revolution. It was the Marriage Equality referendum which demonstrated to me how enjoyable politics could be if I simply relinquished my anger at what I considered to be an unequal State and instead spoke only of the type of Ireland which I wished to be part of.
I found it impossible to return to being an Independent after May 2015.
It was the first time that I truly felt part of a political collective. It is a testament to the importance of those three months in my political formation that the Dublin Central branch of the Social Democrats is populated heavily by people who first encountered one another while knocking on Inner City doors in the name of ‘Yes Equality’.
It was indeed anger, however that sought me to enter politics and seek election to the City Council in 2014.
As the son of an Inner City street trader my earliest interactions with the State were invariably of the negative persuasion. Memories of my school holidays include being regularly chased alongside my mother and her pram full of fruit from Henry Street to Capel Street by an old Garda who the traders affectionately named, ‘Boots’.
Adulthood has ascribed a nostalgic tint to those childhood memories. However, I was also working and volunteering in the community development sector throughout the period of austerity and I watched closely as the people who never benefited in any meaningful way from the Celtic Tiger were disproportionately targeted under the banner of austerity.
My entry into politics was a form of protest but I very quickly learned that this was a futile exercise. The system does not change simply through hatred of it alone. Progress requires engagement.
There are only two types of politicians who really matter: those who can say ‘I wish to continue on the good work of’ and those who can object by asserting ‘here’s what I would do differently’.
In the one year since our launch, the Social Democrats have set the standard for offering an alternative vision for how our country could operate.
When we took the decision, pre-election, to state categorically that we would not erode the tax base by cutting the Universal Social Charge, we showed that the Irish people were no longer willing to be bought off with the allure of individual offerings.
The departure of one of our founding members will of course come as a blow to us but although things may seem a little different, our vision remains the same.
The vision for a strong economy that will provide quality public services to its citizens remains as necessary today as it was one year ago.
For Social Democrats who operate outside of Leinster House, we now have the opportunity to step forward and progress our movement into every city, town and village.
We already have some exceptional members who will make competent legislators in this country.
Niall O’Tuathail is our candidate in Galway West. He recently told me that in the next election that he was going to be explicit about his desire to be a Minister for Health in this country.
He is an incredible guy with a young family who could be successful in any walk of life, but has chosen politics because he believes simply in the idea of civic contribution.
Our ranks are brimming with people of exceptional calibre who remain committed to this movement. Glenna Lynch is one of the most impressive people I have ever met. She is a successful business owner and a person who has already made an enormous impact outside of electoral politics.
Cian O’Callaghan has been a champion of progressive politics for as many years as I can remember. Jennifer Whitmore is an extremely well respected councillor from Greystones who has already contributed significantly to the development of the Social Democrats since our very inception.
The reality is that the Social Democrats in a strong position. One year on from joining the party I am emboldened by the strength of our collective organisation.
Building a political Party that will enter government on its own terms was always going to be a process that took longer than a single year but that remains an aspiration, one that is within our grasp.
As long as we are persistent in our pursuit of social democratic values, we will continue to grow.
I have loved every minute of these past twelve months and look forward with renewed vigour to this forthcoming year
Previously: Dan Boyle on Thursday