The Socialist Party is one of Ireland's youngest political parties. Its exact origins are unclear, but it centres around its TD Joe Higgins, who was elected to the national parliament in the 1997 general election. Higgins claims that his party is the only truly left wing party in the country, as the Labour Party has effectively sold out and "embraced the dictates of the market". However, Higgins's credibility is a little dented by the fact that he won his Dáil seat on a single issue: water charges. He was elected by voters in the Dublin West constituency registering a protest vote against the imposition of charges for water supply by their local authority.
Nonetheless, Higgins's policy pledges certainly demonstrate his committed socialism, even if he paints them with a fairly broad brush. The following points are listed under "What we stand for" on the party's web site:
Essentially, the Socialist Party are filling the gap left by the assimilation of the Democratic Left into Labour. The founders of Democratic Left were once revolutionary socialists as part of the Workers Party, but their steady drift towards the centre was completed when they merged with Labour in 1999. Labour would still consider itself a socialist party, but has never been particularly radical. On many economic and social issues, there is a broad consensus of the centrist parties (Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour), and this is the consensus Higgins seeks to challenge.
Since 1997, the Socialist Party has been very active in campaigning at all levels, but it has failed to shake off its image as a one-man party. Joe Higgins's seat in Dublin West is far from safe, and if he were to lose it at the next election, it is hard to judge whether the Socialist Party would survive. As long as Labour continue to occupy the centre ground, however, it is likely that at least one radical socialist party will stake out its claim to the left wing vote in Ireland.