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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Leah Farrell/ Labour TD and former party leader Brendan Howlin

Labour Party and Social Democrats 'have to be one again', former Labour leader says

Howlin is confident that the party can do “reasonably well” and “hold its own” in the next election.

THE LABOUR PARTY and the Social Democrats need to merge, former Labour leader and Wexford TD Brendan Howlin has said. 

Speaking to The Journal, Howlin said there is no ideological difference between the two parties and although the Social Democrats are opposed to the idea currently, he believes “the day will come”.

Howlin, currently a TD for Wexford, was leader of the Labour Party from 2016 to 2020. 

In October of this year, he announced that he would not be contesting the next General Election. 

He has not been shy about his views on Labour and the Social Democrats in the past, nor have some of his party colleagues. When asked by the Irish Times recently if he could foresee a merger between both parties he answered: “Yes I do. Simple as.” 

This is also the view of former Labour leader Alan Kelly who told the Irish Examiner in 2020 that “Any right-minded people in both parties would have to think that some way into the future that’s a possibility.”

He added however, that Labour will “always be the brand”.

Current Labour leader, Ivana Bacik has not ruled out a merger of both parties either. 

She told RTE Radio 1 earlier this year: “Certainly we’re very interested in working with all parties and all representatives who share our our vision for a more equal Ireland.”

Expanding on his views this week, Howlin told The Journal that “ultimately, the two parties have to be one again”. 

The Social Democrats was set up as a political party in 2015 by TDs Róisín Shortall, Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly. Donnelly – now the Minister for Health – later left to join Fianna Fáil.

Shortall had previously been a Labour TD while Murphy – once a Labour councillor – was an Independent TD before forming the SocDems. 

“I mean, there’s no ideological differences,” Howlin said of both parties. 

“It is a matter of one party has been in government and the other hasn’t. And that’s not a reason, ultimately. Especially when those of us who’ve been in government no longer are on the stage.

“And I think that if social democracy, as espoused by the Labour Party for 100 years, is to survive we have to build allies.

“But it’s always been the way. The Labour Party – there’s always been other types of social democratic parties that we’ve absorbed into us constantly since the foundation of the state,” Howlin said. 

Would he like to see that happen, an absorption of the Social Democrats? 

“I think merging I would use, rather than absorbing,” he said.

But while Labour representatives have been much more open to the idea of joining forces with their social democratic colleagues, the Social Democrats has been firm in its rejection of such a suggestion.

Following her election as party leader in March of this year, Social Democrats’ Holly Cairns said the party’s future “does not include a merger with Labour”.

Her view was that the Labour Party has “broken its trust with the Irish people”.

Howlin remains unconvinced of her position however.

“It’s not on the horizon this minute, but the time will come,” he said. 

On how Labour will perform in the next election, Howlin is confident that the party can do “reasonably well” and “hold its own”.

Although he is concerned by the shift to the right in European and global politics, he said he belives there will be a “space for social democracy again”.

“People want that and within Ireland, I think there’s a core value system that has the regions of 10 or 15% of the Irish population. I think we will get that back,” he said.

You can read Brendan Howlin’s full interview with The Journal in our Policy Matters series in the coming days, where he discusses his views on the European Union, Palestine, the Triple Lock and the threat to Irish neutrality. 

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