The Roscommon Factor ….. The rise of Independents August 12, 2016Posted by irishelectionliterature in Irish Politics.
I was reading the Irish Times 1991 Local and European Elections supplement recently where there was a piece by Charlie McCreevy about what he called “The Roscommon Factor”. He wrote…
“It must be worrying for the major parties that what I call “The Roscommon Factor” is spreading to other constituencies. This electoral peculiarity manifested itself in the election of Tom Foxe on the single issue of keeping one hospital open. Most commentators wrote of his election as an aberration, but other constituencies have now cottoned on to this form of power-broking and the election of “pothole” and “post office” candidates may mean we are goin to have a plethora of single issue TD’s affter the next general election”
Of course the main parties were in shock as for years there were a handful of Independents elected to the Dail, many of whom had fallen out with parties or their own had become defunct. It was a personal vote rather than a vote on a particular issue. Indeed in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s people ran as Independents to publicize themselves or a particular issue and rarely polled well.
In 1992 Tom Foxe was returned again with Tony Gregory, ex FFer Johny Fox in Wicklow, Neil Blaney and the Ceann Comhairle and ex Labour TD Sean Treacy was automatically returned.
In 1997 there was a massive shock as TV deflector candidate Tom Gildea was elected Donegal South West, Mildred Fox, Harry Blaney and two newly Independent candidates Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae were returned.
Fianna Fail did a deal with Fox, Blaney, Gildea and Healy Rae which entailed various goodies for their constituencies in return for their support. It was this deal that in part led to the success of Independent candidates in 2002.
Paudge Connolly was elected in Cavan Monaghan on the main promise of keeping services in Monaghan Hospital. James Breen was elected in Clare. Niall Blaney in Donegal South West, Tony Gregory, Finian McGrath, Paddy McHugh in Galway East, Jackie Healy -Rae, Jerry Cowley in Mayo, Marian Harkin in Sligo Leitrim, Michael Lowry, Seamus Healy, Liam Twomey in Wexford campaigning for medical services there and Mildred Fox.
Many of these were elected in the hopes of similar deals to those given by FF in 1997. The deals didn’t happen and in 2007 Connolly, Breen, Cowley and McHugh lost their seats, Seamus Healy lost out, Twomey joined Fine Gael, The Blarneys reunited with Fianna Fail, Marian Harkin was elected an MEP. Catherine Murphy elected in a by-election also lost out. The surge of Independents was seen as stopped! An aberration in Irish Politics was over…..it was perceived that it was voters focused on National issues , mainly worries about the economy, rather than local issues were what caused the seat losses to smaller parties and Independents.
The implosion of the economy, arrival of the IMF and other factors led to a breakdown in Fianna Fail support in 2011 and with a record number of seats Labour and Fine Gael went into coalition together.
Mick Wallace, Mattie McGrath, Thomas Pringle, Shane Ross, John Halligan, Catherine Murphy, Stephen Donnelly, Maureen O’Sullivan , Finian McGrath, Noel Grealish, Michael Healy Rae, Tom Fleming, Michael Lowry, Luke Flanagan and Seamus Healy (under the WUAG/ULA banner) were all returned to the Dail. Some were ex FF or FG, others from the Left and others were ‘mavericks’ , Allied to that Joan Collins and Richard Boyd-Barrett were elected for PBP and Joe Higgins and Clare Daly were elected for the Socialist Party.
Come this year and with disenchantment with FG/FF and especially Labour rife many more Independents were elected. Some such as The Independent Alliance were quasi parties, similar Independents 4 Change.
Denis Naughten, Michael Lowry, Michael Harty (Campaigning on medical services in Clare), Michael Collins, Mattie McGrath, Thomas Pringle, Maureen O’Sullivan, Seamus Healy, Noel Grealish, Michael Healy Rae, Danny Healy Rae, Catherine Connolly and Katherine Zappone were all elected as Independents.
Shane Ross, John Halligan, Finian McGrath, Boxer Moran, Sean Canney and Michael Fitzmaurice were elected under the Independent Alliance brand.
Tommy Broughan, Clare Daly, Joan Collins and Mick Wallace are listed as having been elected as Independents 4 Change.
It was interesting post election to see the various groupings of Independents emerge, The ‘rural five’ and so on. Then of course who did and didn’t negotiate on government formation, who did and didn’t eventually sign up to going into government. Then those that urged Government formation but didn’t engage in negotiations.So many distinctions between them and of course some will be judged by not going in, others by what they did or didn’t do having gotten into power.
We were told too that there were “No deals” with the Independents although some surely got some of their wishes, constituents wishes and one or two certainly got their personal ambition of being in government.
Polls have started to show FF rising mainly at the expense of Independents, of those that went into government quite a few of them are vulnerable. Katherine Zappone, Finian McGrath, Boxer Moran and Sean Canney may not be rewarded for going into government. Dr Harty has indicated that he won’t stand again and of the opposition Independents well Thomas Pringle, Maureen O’Sullivan , Michael Collins, Michael Fitzmaurice and Danny Healy Rae may be vulnerable.
Will many new Independents emerge at the next election? Will the existing number go down?
Although the length of this Government is ultimately within the gift of FF (assuming the Indos stay on board), other factors such as new constituency boundaries and a new FG leader may well influence when to bring the government down. Where up to relatively recently FF went up and FG went down, the broader options available to the electorate mean the reading of polls and polling data probably has to be much more expansive.