With just a couple of days to go into polling, we’ll close off our look at the Kildare North candidates with perhaps its most well-known one, elected as an Independent, but now co-leader of her own political party.
Catherine Murphy is a sitting TD and co-leader of the Social Democrats. She started her political career in the Worker’s Party in the late eighties, with whom she was first elected a local councillor in 1991. She followed Proinsias De Rossa into his new Democratic Left in 1992, falling short in two successive Dail runs, before joining Labour after the merger of the two entities. After more stints at local office, Murphy left Labour due to internal problems – some bad blood remains, it is my understanding – before being elected to the Dail at a Kildare North bye-election in 2005. She held that seat only until 2007, went back to local council, and was then re-elected to the Dail in 2011. While there, she formed the Social Democrats with Stephen Donnelly and Roisin Shorthall.
Murphy of course has become very well known nationally following her role in the Dennis O’Brien/IBRC scandal of last year, but she’s been a mainstay in local Kildare politics for over two decades, currently a member of her fourth political party. Her website is easily the best of any Kildare North candidates, overflowing with records of her Dail speeches and motions, introduced legislation, national policy opinions and local activity. Her larger focus is very much on a national level, concurrent with the Soc Dems’ key trait, and so we can look to them for much of her own beliefs: reducing the cost of living instead of reducing the tax base, a Scandinavian style system balancing tax intake with better public services and large scale political reform to combat corruption and inefficiency at all levels. Certainly the policy aggregators like WhichCandidate and The Journal database are surprisingly sparse when it comes to Murphy’s contributions, but an outline can be seen: repeal of the 8th amendment, increase of the minimum wage, greater rent controls. All the signs are there for a centre-left candidate in the European vein.
As the Soc Dems are brand new and facing into first electoral test, we have nothing to judge them specifically on. Kildare North has never been a fruitful abode for smaller parties. For nearly as long as Kildare has been voting, the smallest party they have been voting representatives for has been Labour, until Murphy and her Independent stance came along.
For Murphy herself we have a lot of information. The surprise win of 2005, when she upset Fianna Fail’s Aine Brady to win Charlie McCreevy’s vacant seat, was wiped away by her failure in 2007, when Brady won the seat at the second opportunity, Murphy missing out just at the last count to Bernard Durkan. She threw herself back into local politics, co-opted into the Leixlip district in 2008 before dominating in Celbridge in 2009, winning over 25% of first preferences. She used that base to run a dynamic and popular campaign in 2011, gaining over 1’500 first preference votes on her 2007 performance, comfortably elected with a large amount of transfers from other candidates, while Aine Brady again collapsed. There’s no doubting that Murphy’s prominence and popularity have only grown since then.
As such, Murphy is essentially a sure thing, or as much of a one as you can be in Kildare North. The only serious question is whether she will top the poll or not, and it seems likely, in the face of Fine Gael and Labour’s declining popularity, that she will, giving Kildare North its first elected non-Fine Gael/Fianna Fail/Labour TD from another party ever. In terms of the wider electoral contest, it’s Murphy’s transfers that are actually a bit more interesting. If she was to get a large enough surplus, whoever it primarily went to would have a significant advantage. And it probably wouldn’t be a Fine Gael, Fianna Fail or Labour candidate.
I like Catherine Murphy a lot. She’s determined, seems uncompromising and has proven herself a tough electoral contender for over 25 years at this point. While she’s hopped from party to party, it was never out of cynical self-interest primarily, and her problems with Labour were something that caught my eye in 2011, when I was starting to get unsettling feelings about them and all their promises. Now, not content to just be the kind of Independent who occasionally upsets the applecart and gets her name in the papers, she’s taking the lead in the creation of a new political party, a party with a radically different outlook to things like taxation and quality of life to other parties. Her personal beliefs largely mesh with my own, and I feel like the Soc Dems may be in a position, sooner than we might think, to make a real difference in the way that the country is run. They may struggle to win many seats outside of their current three – like Renua, I think this election is as much about winning attention to their candidates and message for future local and Dail votes – but those three alone will be capable of causing the right kind of stir in Leinster House. I’m happy to give a vote to that process, to a modern political party.
Victory for Murphy will be an almost certain seat and a slightly less certain but still very likely topping of the poll. Defeat in that context would be to not really improve upon her last vote percentage, indicating that she and her party have hit a plateau in Kildare North already. I doubt that will happen.
With my review of the candidates finished, tomorrow I’ll discuss my endorsement (guess who?), my chosen preferences and give my final predictions of the Kildare North and national race. Until then.