The Social Democrats are calling for the extra €4bn allocated to health spending last year to be continued to cover post-Covid care and tackle lengthy waiting lists.

The party's six TDs are meeting in Dublin today at their think-in ahead of the return of the Dáil next week. Participants are taking part in sessions on housing, climate and health.

Co-leader Róisín Shortall said a big proportion of the €4bn would cover the ongoing demands of Covid, including testing and tracing and continuing the vaccination programme.

She said there was also an urgent need to deal with "unprecedented" waiting lists for both procedures and outpatients appointments.

"There are now 900,000 on hospital waiting lists. We have never seen anything like it before. There are also hidden waiting lists for community services like speech and language therapy, physiotherapy and early assessments for children with special needs," said Ms Shortall.

She said there was also demand for mental health services.

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Ms Shortall defended the party's call earlier this year for the Government to pursue a zero-Covid strategy.

She said they had differed with the Government on how the pandemic was handled and she said it could have been done differently by learning from countries which concentrated on reducing numbers.

"It was a very bad year for the country and the impact of Covid was very severe. In total there was over 5,000 deaths and huge job losses and a huge impact on the economy."

"New Zealand had 326 deaths and the economy and society remained open throughout," she said.

In late July, a small group of Social Democrat members wrote a letter calling for a leadership contest. The request was not sent to the party's national executive.

Asked about the rumblings, co-leader Catherine Murphy said there was engagement after last year’s general election and a proposal was agreed that herself and Ms Shortall would be nominated to lead the party. That proposal was endorsed by the national executive.

Asked whether the pair would lead the party into the next general election, she said they would.

She added that they were focused on building and having sufficient candidates for future local and general elections.

Ms Murphy said the letter was curious as it actually expressed support for the leadership.

"We have a very youthful membership and there is an expectation that things can be done faster than they can be," she said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland programme, Ms Murphy said that the party is open to talking to other parties about entering Government, if it is one that delivers on a better future in terms of good quality public services and bringing integrity to politics.

She said that the party is not "not ruling anyone in or out" in terms of coalition partners, but that it wants to be in government "to deliver on a better Ireland".