A good long while ago, in the aftermath of the crash and all that came with it, you probably noticed a large amount of what I was happy to dub “micro-parties” popping into existence ahead of the 2011 election, most of whom very quickly ceased to exist afterwards. The history of Irish political entities is littered with these, the kind of groups that spring up not long before an election, campaign on big ideas despite being based usually around a handful of people, and then die off almost as quickly as they have come. Despite the source material, I do constantly come back to this thread about the Christian Solidarity Party’s various failings as a classic example of how these smaller parties simply don’t have the endurance, political savvy, or plain understanding of the way things really work to last too long.
At the start of the campaign I made predictions on how I thought the parties would fare, and as part of that I listed off all of the smaller parties that exist in some form in Ireland, whether they are actually registered, whether they prefer to be unregistered or whether they are not strictly a party but more of an interest group (and I’m sure I missed some). Let’s just list them again here to give you an idea of how many of them actually exist, even if it might just be one man and his dog:
RISE (that remains part of Solidarity-PBP), Workers and Unemployed Action, Human Dignity Alliance, the Worker’s Party, Republican Sinn Fein, the Kerry Independent Alliance, the Irish Democratic Party, Independent Left, Renua, the Communist Party of Ireland, Direct Democracy Ireland, Eirigi, Fis Nua, the Housing Rights and Reform Alliance, Identity Ireland, the Irish Freedom Party, the National Party, the Catholic Democrats, the Irish Republican Socialist Party, the Irish Socialist Network, Saoradh, United People, and Christian Solidarity.
Leaving aside the first three that have at least nominal Oireachtas representation, of the remainder six are running candidates in this general election. In truth many of the others will be running candidates as well, but whether it is because they are unregistered or because they choose to, they will be officially running as “non-party”.
In this post I want to spend a bit of time looking at those six smaller parties, both for my own curiosity and because it is the sort of electoral minutia that I do find quite interesting. In alphabetical order:
The Irish Democratic Party has been in existence since 2013, the result of a split in Direct Democracy Ireland (a recurring theme, as we shall see). It is not the party of the same name founded in 2010 but non-existent a few years after that. They boast a single local councillor in party leader Ken Smollen, in Tullamore. He’s also their sole general election candidate this time around. The party is built around advocacy for Swiss-style direct democracy – that they have re-titled “participatory democracy” – recall votes and a general reform of government. Oh, and they are anti-fluoride. The party has very little in the way of presence, and if you go looking for stuff you will find things like this bizarre story where Smollen allegedly hoodwinked Fine Gael Minister of State Marcella Kennedy into thinking a constituent was about to commit suicide in her office. No chance whatsoever of a seat.
The Irish Freedom Party was founded in 2018 and has no electoral representation. While not exactly a single issue party, it was founded primarily as an eurosceptic venture, that advocates Irish withdrawal from the European Union. It’s headed by noted racist Hermann Kelly, a guy with lots of alt-right links and a conspiratorial mindset, endorsing, among other idiocy, the “great replacement” theory. He and the party are also strongly pro-life. Their existence has been marked by a few farcical incidents, such as the creation of a fake candidate for the Kerry locals and mistakes in their registration papers meaning they missed the deadline to run in European elections (Kelly and others ran as Independents, and predictably bombed). “Irexit” is not a popular position in Ireland, and does not stand to be in the near future, despite the party getting a large amount of press attention. They are running in eleven constituencies, and include among their candidates one Ben Gilroy, of Direct Democracy Ireland. They have no chance of winning any seats.
The National Party was founded in 2016 and has no electoral representation. As you might expect from the title, the party advocates a hard-right nationalist position, which of course comes with heapings of anti-immigration, euroskepticism, pro-life, anti-gay and populist ideology. The party is led by Justin Barrett, once of Youth Defence, who has plenty of links with Neo-Nazi groups in Europe. Like the Irish Freedom Party they have attracted a fair amount of media attention in the current political environment, and have attempted to explicitly link themselves to Trumpism by holding an Ard Dheis in the man’s Doonbeg Hotel. Ireland has so far proven largely immune to the current wave of right-wing populism, in terms of tangible electoral gains, though this is not to say this may not change in the future. This will be their first election, and they are running candidates in ten constituencies, mostly rural. They have no chance of winning any seats.
Renua – yes, they are still around – was founded in 2015 and has no electoral representation, having at one time had three TD’s and a few councillors. John Leahy was elected in Birr for the party in 2019, but subsequently resigned when all 24 of the parties other candidates in that vote failed to be elected. As far as I am aware Renua continues to be leaderless. They remain, as they have always been, a Christian democratic party known mostly for their pro-life campaigning, social conservatism and economic liberalism. Having largely become a running joke since 2016, it genuinely astonishes me that the party has not folded or merged into some of the aforementioned entities. They are running eleven candidates in this election. They have no chance of winning any seats.
United People was founded in 2015, the result of another split with Direct Democracy Ireland (funny how that keeps happening). This was a result of a dispute between the then leadership of DDI and a guy called Jeff Rudd, who founded United People as a slightly more left-wing version of what DDI advocates. So, they too advocate more “participatory democracy”, recall votes and widescale government reform, but without the pro-life stuff (but with the anti-fluoride stuff). They are running a single candidate, Alistair Smith, in Dublin Fingal. He has no chance of winning a seat.
The Worker’s Party technically traces its history to 1905, but really sprang into being in 1970, the result of an acrimonious split with Sinn Fein over the issue of abstention. Throw in a few more splits, most notably that in 1992 when Proinsias De Rossa and most of its TD’s departed to form Democratic Left, and you have the modern group, which at the present time has a single elected representative, Ted Tynan, on the Cork City Council, and is led by Michael Donnelly. The Worker’s Party is republican entity with a strong Marxist ideology. Practically speaking, it is not all that distinguishable from other hard-left groups, but I’m sure they would not appreciate me saying that: they are, after all, more outwardly communist than others. They are running in four constituencies, three of those in urban areas. They have no chance of winning any seats.
My judgement of the electoral chances of the six named entities should not be taken as some sign of hostility, though I am certainly hostile to the likes of the Irish Freedom and National Parties. Instead, it is a sober and reflective assessment of their chances, running in constituencies dominated by Ireland’s traditional parties, and competing with like-minded Independents for just enough votes to last a few counts. The Irish Democratic Party, Renua and United People are on a hiding to nothing really. Irish Freedom’s success will be dependent on a radical swing in Irish opinion on the EU, that itself depends on the impact of Brexit, but it would have to really bad. The Nationalist’s are waiting on a populist surge that seems unlikely in a country that has essentially had one conservative government after another for nearly a century. And the Worker’s Party are just one small part of a balkanised hard-left, whose moment in the sun ended nearly three decades ago.
None of them are likely to seriously impact on the electoral landscape anytime soon, and many of them will probably die off quietly at some point in the next five years. By then there will be a new crop of micro-parties, but the end result always seems to be the same.