Thursday 23 November 2017

Donnelly shrugs off wet and windy weather to tackle burning issues

Social Democrat co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly with sisters Cara (4) and Emma Murphy (6) while canvassing on Grafton Street in Dublin yesterday Photo: Fergal Phillips
Social Democrat co-leaders Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly with sisters Cara (4) and Emma Murphy (6) while canvassing on Grafton Street in Dublin yesterday Photo: Fergal Phillips
Deirdre Reynolds

Deirdre Reynolds

The Social Democrats' joint leader Stephen Donnelly proved his bald ambition while canvassing for votes in the capital yesterday.

Property tax, water charges and the Universal Social Charge were just some of the burning issues raised by shoppers on a wet and windy Grafton Street.

Face to face to with the Wicklow and East Carlow candidate, however, future voter Cara Murphy had a far more pressing question: "Why have you no hair?"

Just a week after standing head and shoulders above the competition during the leaders' debate, the father of three didn't bristle at being challenged.

"Well," he explained. "I went out one day and it was so windy it just blew off."

With two separate opinion polls over the weekend putting the new party at 4pc, the Social Democrats could be within reach of coalition government.

Borrowing a purple scarf to pound the pavement in Dublin yesterday, the Soc Dems' social media star insisted he hadn't engaged in any back channel talks with Enda Kenny.

"Not at all," he said. "Zero. Back, front, up, down channels - nothing.

"No one's DMed us, no one's Facebook-posted us, no one's texted us. Nothing - not even a Snapchat."

Seven months after it was launched, the party is aiming to win 14 seats in the 32nd Dáil Éireann - and is tipped to take three.

Meanwhile, bookmakers Paddy Power is offering odds of 14/1 on a Fine Gael/Labour/Social Democrats coalition, and 25/1 on a coalition of just Fine Gael and the Social Democrats.

Clad in the party's signature hue, dozens of supporters sacrificed their Sunday afternoon to help get Mr Donnelly and fellow leaders Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall over the line at least.

Defying the 40-year-old Mr Donnelly's famously smart-casual dress code, Alfie Dempsey donned a grape-coloured Social Demo-cravat for the occasion.

It looked great on the four- year-old chocolate labrador. "We're from Stillorgan, but we drive down to Wicklow to support Stephen," said owner Conor Dempsey. "Alfie loves canvassing. He's a complete pussycat - not even Michael Ring has to worry."

With General Election 2016 just days away, Mr Donnelly, on the other hand, was only too happy to show his teeth.

He said: "For me, the Social Democrats are a world apart from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or Labour. They're all talking about incremental changes to broken systems - we're talking about creating systems that work.

"If you take healthcare, what are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael saying? 'Maybe we build a primary care centre here, and maybe we build a primary care centre there, sure let's hire a few more A&E staff.' What we're saying [is] let's stop. The healthcare system is clearly broken.

"We need to think about healthcare differently - that's why we're proposing a national health service. It's the same on housing."

So could they be the tail that wags the dog after the votes are counted this weekend?

Former Minister Róisín Shortall - who is standing in Dublin North-West - said: "We're not interested in propping up any other parties. We've set out a very clear plan for the next 10 years for this country. If other parties want to talk to us about that, we're very happy to talk to them about that - but we're not interested in more of the same.

Mr Donnelly agreed: "We will be having no conversations with anyone about maintaining the status quo. If people agree with us that we need to go on a better path based on Social Democratic values - rethink healthcare, rethink housing, call an absolute end to things like child poverty - we will have that conversation with them."

Irish Independent

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