Dail independents ushering in new political force

THE ELECTORATE may have thrashed Fianna Fáil as a party with any prospect of power, but they also saw off any so-called ‘independents’ with obvious signs of Fianna Fáil DNA.

And in doing so, they ushered in a force of ‘new blood’ high-profile independents.

The main winners were Wicklow’s Shane Ross – who stormed home with an resounding 17,000-plus tally – and Wexford’s Mick Wallace.

Although results were still not finalised for his seat, Wicklow’s Stephen Donnelly was also looking likely to get elected.

The Harvard-educated McKinsey & Co management consultant’s profile was greatly enhanced by support from Democracy Now organiser and economist David McWilliams.

Yet as the counts continue, the political prospects of independents with Fianna Fáil associations were not looking good.

These included Wicklow’s Joe Behan while the outgoing former Fianna Fáil and now independent TD for Tipperary South, Mattie McGrath, was only elected on the fifth and final count.

Of the 564 candidates who contested the General Election, 233 ran as independents or for smaller parties.

This was the highest amount of independent candidates to ever stand in an Irish election, well up on the 108 who ran in the last election in 2007.

The wide spread proliferation of independents was seen as a reflection of a growing disillusion with the country’s party-political machine.

That Shane Ross may have had a touch of Fine Gael in his political DNA, by virtue of his past association with the party, certainly did him no harm.

Of the other independents expected to do well, Richard Boyd Barrett was one of the main contenders.

He polled well enough to see him in a good position to take the fourth available seat, expected to beat both Labour’s Ivana Bacik and Fianna Fáil’s Mary Hanafin.

Although his actress mother Sinéad Cusack had helped with canvassing, Boyd Barrett is popular in his own right and has assiduously built up a solid local following among the residents of Dún Laoghaire.

But while the most high-profile independent candidates did well at the polls, constituencies all around the country were littered with the dashed hopes of hundreds of less well known independent TD wannabes.

The tally of independents who failed to get elected included Dún Laoghaire’s Victor Boyhan – a former PD councillor – Carl J Haughton and Trevor Patton.

Anglo Avenger Joe McNamara – the developer who famously drove his cement mixer at the gates of Leinster House on Budget Day – had been expected to stand as a candidate.

Given that he later decided against standing, the success of other independents in this election may well prove to be a source of regret for him.

So too for the various ‘celebrity’ candidates who made up Democracy Now.

What ended up being dubbed ‘Democracy Later’ – after the initiative decided not to field any candidates – began its life as a popular movement to press for political reform and the dissolution of the EU-IMF debt agreement.

However, organisers Eamon Dunphy, David McWilliams and Fintan O’Toole abandoned the movement because of the early call for a general election.

Dunphy said at the time: ‘I gave running for the Dáil serious thought because I am so angry at the destruction of Ireland.

‘I have children and grandchildren and I feel for them because I know what they’re facing into.

‘Ireland has been destroyed by the bunglers in the Dáil – mostly from Fianna Fáil.

‘And the opinion polls show that not many have confidence in the alternative government of Fine Gael/Labour.’

Only time will tell if the crop of ‘new blood’ independents can fulfil the promise they claim to represent in the country’s changed political landscape.