#GE16: Who are the ‘The Left’?

Páraic Gallagher takes an in-depth look into the personalities of 'The Left'

In general election 2016, a number of political parties and groupings have been talking about a ‘left-wing’ or ‘left-leaning’ Government as an alternative to what many describe as the current ‘right-wing’ coalition of Fine Gael and Labour. But despite talk of such a coalition, our political correspondent, Páraic Gallagher says so far the left isn’t showing signs of being able to come together in a united front with a very clear message to voters. Their message is that the principle of the left is far more important than personalities. But who are the personalities, and can they work together?

Anti-Austerity Alliance - People before Profit

There is the old saying that the first thing on the agenda for any new left-wing political party is the split. The Anti-Austerity Alliance - People before Profit have come together to contest the election on a joint platform. But the two groupings, while having come up with a new name, remain separate entities and don’t have a leadership structure in place. The groups have also selected candidates independently of each other and so in many constituencies, they will have at least two candidates under the same banner vying for votes.

Paul Murphy: The Dublin South West TD seems to have become the main face of the Anti Austerity Alliance that also includes Dublin West Ruth Coppinger and Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins who is not contesting this election. Murphy also looks set to replace Higgins as leader of the Socialist Party in the future. Murphy’s profile has been raised following his arrest and charge over an incident where it’s alleged Tánaiste Joan Burton was falsely imprisoned in her car during a protest in Dublin.

Ruth Coppinger: The Dublin West TD was elected in a by-election at the height of the anti-austerity and water charges debate. She too has managed to raise her profile by occupying a showhome at a development in the constituency to highlight the lack of adequate social and affordable housing.

Richard Boyd-Barrett: He was one of two People Before Profit Alliance TDs elected in 2011, the other being Joan Collins. Boyd-Barrett passionately opposes the Government – whether that is on budgets, banking, US military use of Shannon, water charges, property tax or saving the seafront in his Dun Laoghaire constituency. 

United Left

Just before the last general election, we had an offering in the form of the United Left Alliance. This saw Richard Boyd-Barrett and Joan Collins of People Before Profit, then Socialist TD Clare Daly and party leader Joe Higgins and Tipperary South TD Seamus Healy get elected under this banner. But the grouping saw rows and personality clashes that seemed to be bigger than the fact that they were all ideologically close. The grouping foundered and split.

Clare Daly: Daly left the Socialist Party in 2012. The row centred on Daly’s decision not to call for the resignation of her political ally, Deputy Mick Wallace over his failure to pay VAT and settlement with the Revenue Commissioners. Daly has championed opposition to austerity, banking bailouts, water charges and has been a proponent of abortion legislation. She was arrested and fined for climbing over the fence at Shannon Airport in an attempt to search a US military plane. In 2013, along with Joan Collins she established a new political party called ‘United Left’. While this banner will be used in the election, Daly’s website describes her as ‘an independent TD’.

Joan Collins: Collins was elected to the Dáil for People Before Profit in 2011. A long time campaigner in Dublin’s South city, she became prominent in the anti-bin tax campaign. She has since been vocal on water charges, bank bailouts and austerity in general. She infamously appeared on an RTE news report in 2011 challenging former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern outside the Dáil over his pension asking ‘have you no shame?’. Before joining forces with Clare Daly in the new party Collins left the United Left Alliance and the People Before Profit Alliance.


This is a movement that has developed out of the anti-water charges protests and has a broad policy platform as a basis for a future left-wing government. Alongside getting rid of the water charges it wants higher taxes on wealth and capital, higher public investment and priority places on social investment. Those who have signed up to it include Sinn Féin, the PBP-AAA, and a number of Independent TDs.

A voting transfer pact was suggested so that vote share could be increased for like-minded candidates and a greater chance of those candidates getting elected. But not everyone signed up to it. Sinn Féin were quick out of the blocks to say they would support a pact and ask their voters to transfer to others who were signed up to Right2Change.

But the Anti-Austerity Alliance TDs such as Paul Murphy and Ruth Coppinger and Independent Thomas Pringle have been less favourable towards such a voting pact. But others such as Richard Boyd-Barrett and Joan Collins are in favour of asking their supporters to continue transfers to Sinn Féin.

To the left, to the left ... or the centre-left... Social Democrats

In the summer of 2015 three independent TDs established a new centre-left party, the Social Democrats. It supports the Nordic model of social democracy, opposes water charges and wants a repeal of the eighth amendment. The party has three leaders – Catherine Murphy, Roisin Shortall and Stephen Donnelly, with the election of a leader to take place after the general election.

Catherine Murphy: First elected to the Dáil for Kildare North as an independent in a by-election in 2005, she lost her seat in 2007 and regained it in 2011. She is a former member of the Workers Party and Democratic Left and opposed the merger with the Labour Party, though she was elected a Councillor for the party before becoming an independent in 2003. She has been the ‘whip’ of the Dáil’s technical group. Murphy has increased her profile when she used Dáil privilege to highlight the issue of loans being sold by the former Anglo Irish Bank, Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, to the businessman Denis O’Brien.

Roisin Shortall: Roisin Shortall was a long-standing Labour TD, first elected to the Dáil in 1992. After the 2011 general election, she was appointed a Minister of State in the Department of Health, with responsibility for primary care. There were reports of rows between herself and the senior minister in the department at the time, James Reilly. In 2012, Reilly faced a motion of no confidence in the Dáil from Fianna Fáil and in her speech Shortall didn’t express confidence in him, though did vote for him. But just weeks later she resigned her ministry and from the Parliamentary Labour Party. She has sat since as an independent TD before founding the new party.

Stephen Donnelly: Donnelly was a newcomer to politics when he was elected as an Independent TD for Wicklow in 2011. A former management consultant he has been vocal on issues surrounding the financial crisis, saying there was a need to address issues such as household debt alongside the banks. He highlighted that Ireland didn’t get a bailout from the Troika, but that there was a circle of money put through Ireland from the Troika to international banks, bondholders and investors.

All of the left-wing groupings and parties and Independents are probably only united on one thing – the Labour party. They talk of the treachery of the Labour party, that it sold-out, has become ‘Fine-Gael lite’. Realistically if there is to be a left Government after general election 2016 or at some point thereafter all of the left parties will have to come together – including whatever is left of Labour and bringing in Sinn Féin and the centre ground of Fianna Fáil. The reality for many of the smaller groupings is that what they really want is a magic number of seven TDs each – giving them powerful speaking rights in the Dáil on the Opposition benches - allowing them to raise issues, question An Taoiseach, and be a thorn in the Government’s side.

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