There are 26 political parties in Ireland. Did you know this? I didn’t and I’m supposed to be a political correspondent.
They range from parties with an unbroken heritage back to the foundation of the State to brand new ones.
The newest party is the 100% Redress Party, which has just applied to the Electoral Commission for registration.
Formed in the wake of the mica building scandal, it joins a crowded field.
Here is the exhaustive list of registered Irish political parties right now.
In the saddle
Fianna Fáil: Founded 1926.
Current leader: Micheál Martin.
Representation: 36 TDs, 21 senators, 2 MEPs, 276 councillors.
Fianna Fáil has been in government for most of the history of the State since first taking power in 1932. The party has historically drawn support from smaller farmers all over the country.
Fine Gael: Founded 1933.
Current leader: Leo Varadkar.
Representation: 34 TDs, 16 senators, 5 MEPs, 254 councillors.
In power since 2011, this has been Fine Gael’s longest unbroken spell in government. The current coalition finally spelled the end of a century of Civil War politics. Seen as the part of larger farmers, it has enjoyed high levels of support in Irish Farmers Journal polls and surveys, although it has been slowly slipping since 2016.
Green Party: Founded 1981.
Current leader: Eamon Ryan.
Representation: 12 TDs, 4 senators, 2 MEPs, 44 councillors. Representation in Northern Ireland: 7 councillors.
The Green Party is in its second stint in Government. Seen by many farmers as responsible for driving the climate agenda which is forcing change in production systems and levels, it has negligible levels of support among farmers.
Poised for power
Sinn Féin: Founded 1970 (as provisional Sinn Féin).
Current leader: Mary Lou McDonald.
Representation: 36 TDs, 4 senators, 1 MEP 81 councillors. Representation in Northern Ireland 7 MPs, 27 MLAs, 1 MEP, 144 councillors.
The joint-largest party in the Dáil and consistently well clear in opinion polls, Sinn Féin seems the most likely party to anchor the next government. Housing and health are the key areas it has identified as failures of government. It has consistently polled among farmers way below its national rating.
A permanent presence
Labour Party: Founded 1912.
Current leader: Ivana Bacik.
Representation: 7 TDs, 4 Senators, 56 councillors.
A constant in Irish politics since before the foundation of the State, the Labour Party has frequently been coalition partners, mostly with Fine Gael. Currently at a low ebb, there has been no distinguishable bounce from Ivana Bacik’s election as leader. While TDs such as Willie Penrose and Sean Sherlock have been articulate on farming issues, the party is not prominent in current debates around the sector.
The minor parties
Social Democrats: Founded 2015.
Current leader: Holly Cairns.
Representation: 6 TDs, 20 councillors.
Holly Cairns gave the Soc Dems a high-profile presence at the Ploughing championships. A farmer in west Cork, she is articulate and informed on agricultural issues, though closer to the Greens than the farm organisations on many issues.
Solidarity/People Before Profit: Founded 2015.
Current leader: collective leadership.
Representation: 5 TDs, 10 councillors. Northern Ireland representation: 1 MLA, 2 councillors.
The most left-wing party with Dail representation, it has few candidates outside urban areas, but is on ballots in many rural counties.
Aontú: Founded 2019.
Current leader: Peadar Toibín.
Representation: 1TD, 3 councillors.
The party is regarded as conservative on some social issues, but left of centre on economic issues. Peadar Toibín is articulate on farming matters.
Right To Change: Founded 2020.
Leader: collective leadership.
Representation: 1 TD.
Joan Collins founded this group and is its sole TD. Linked to the Right 2 Water campaign.
Independents 4 Change: Founded 2014.
Representation: 2 MEPs, 3 councillors.
Unusually, this grouping has more MEPs than TDs. While left-wing in outlook, Mick Wallace and Claire Daly’s stance on the invasion of Ukraine is widely seen as pro-Russian. Next year’s European elections may test that position’s popularity.
Round-up of the rest
The Communist Party of Ireland: Founded 1933.
The Workers Party.
Kerry Independent Alliance.
Workers and Unemployed Action.
Éirigí for a new Republic.
Direct Democracy Ireland.
Centre Party of Ireland.
Human Dignity Alliance (one senator- Ronan Mullen).
The National Party.
Irish Freedom Party.
Party for Animal Welfare.
The parties with little or no representation across the country fall right across the political spectrum.
On the far-right there is the National Party, led by Longford farmer James Reynolds, formerly an Irish Farmers Association and Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association representative.
The Communist Party and the Workers Party sit on the left.
Parties such as Direct Democracy Now want everything decided by mass vote - a world of endless referenda, if you will.
You will notice the presence of the Party for Animal Welfare on the list. I have carried it here in the order they are listed on the Electoral Commission's register.
Not yet listed
The Farmers Alliance
Although it has not yet applied to the Electoral Commission for registration as a political party, the Farmers Alliance has declared itself as a political party that will contest next year’s local elections. Founded earlier this year following an initial pair of meetings in Athlone, its manifesto, described as a work in progress, was outlined by Adrian Kelly at a public meeting in Portlaoise last Sunday.
While that manifesto was almost exclusively about farming issues, its social media platform and selection of guest speakers talk of issues ranging from “excess deaths” (the inference here is about COVID-19 vaccines), climate change, the relationship between immigration and housing, and “changes in education”. This combination of stances is placing it well on the right of the political spectrum in the public mind.
No longer with us
The Progressive Democrats
Among the many parties that have departed active politics and do not appear on the political register, The Progressive Democrats is probably the most notable of recent retirements. Formed in 1986 by Dessie O’Malley following his expulsion from Fianna Fáil, the PDs wanted to break the mould of Civil War politics.
Many of the early leadership such as O’Malley himself, Bobby Molloy and Mary Harney, had left Fianna Fáil. Others such as Michael McDowell and Michael Keating were Fine Gael supporters.
Within three years, the PDs were in government alongside Charles Haughey and Fianna Fáil. The party disbanded in 2009, while still ostensibly part of government.
Previous farmers' parties
The Farmers Party
Founded in 1922, it was seen as a party of larger farmers. It won seven seats in the 1922 election (the Treaty election) and increased its representation to 15 TDs the following year. It was closely aligned to Cumann na nGaedheal, with many of its TDs defecting to that party.
The reminder joined the Centre Party in 1933, which soon after amalgamated with Cumann Na nGaedheal and infamously the Army Comrades Association (better known as the fascistic Blueshirts) to form Fine Gael.
Clann Na Talmhan
Formed in 1939, Clann Na Talmhan was similar to the Farmers Alliance in that it was a party of and for smaller farmers. It differed in that it was initially to the left of centre.
Prior to the 1943 general election, it merged with a National Agricultural Party, which was more of a successor to the farmers party in its views.
Winning 10 seats in the first of five elections in 11 years, it served in two subsequent coalition governments (1948-1951 and 1954-1957), but lost seats in every election it contested, until disbanding finally in 1965.