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The Roscommon Factor ….. The rise of Independents August 12, 2016

Posted 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.


1. botheredbarney - August 12, 2016

The rise of Independents symbolises a turning away from traditional ‘national politics’. The FF-FG politics of false opposites has been shrinking, and latterly the ‘half party’ Labour that went into junior partnership with FG has diminished to electoral farce. I hope this trend will continue to a point where FF and FG are forced into actual coalition and their fundamental sameness of economic and social outlook are made bare. After that, a politics of real opposites may emerge. Until that happens Irish democracy will continue to be ridiculously exceptionalist in the western world.


oconnorlysaght - August 12, 2016

Not so very exceptionalist. Strip away the excretia and Trump v.
Clinton does not give a greater choice than Kenny v. Martin. Nor, for that matter did Blair/Brown against their Tory opponents. However, I agree that we need ‘a politics of real opposites. A mixum gatherum of Independents cannot provide this. Can such a force be built in time?


botheredbarney - August 13, 2016

Agreed that in recent decades a false opposites politics has taken over in the UK and the USA, but In post civil war Ireland the FF FG parliamentary game persisted until very recent years, while Lab-Con politics meant some differences to UK voters until the emergence of New Labour. For many decades the Democratic Party stood for immigrants, welfare and deficit spending budgets as against the big business and military spending tendencies of the GOP. Large swathes of the Irish electorate are populist in outlook, so I doubt whether a straight right-left political culture will emerge quickly.


oconnorlysaght - August 13, 2016

Good on UK/US history, Barney, but that was then:this is now. In any case, for the first quarter-century of the 26 Co. state, Cumann na nGael/ Fine Gael could not be described accurately as populist. It had to change in order to survive.


Gerald - August 13, 2016

The multi-seat constituency system encourages localist, populist photo-op funeral following and questions-to-the- taoiseach headline grabbing by elected Dail deputies. Might a constitutional amendment enabling the redrawing of constituencies to make them all single-seaters help to reduce localism and populism?


2. sonofstan - August 12, 2016

“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”

Most of this cohort represent a quite different breed of indo – some don’t so clinics and have focused very effectively on national issues. I was impressed, for example, when Pringle was the one to bring up the Lynam’s Hotel issue in the Dail. Unlikely that many in Letterkenny were exercised by that.


sonofstan - August 12, 2016

‘do clinics’


3. dublinstreams - August 12, 2016

is the Roscommon factor unique to independents? look at Frank Feighan FG


4. oconnorlysaght - August 13, 2016

The single constituency idea is floated regularly as a means of allowing the Dail to become more more political. In fact, the concentration of patronage powers (and the appearance of such powers) in deputies’ hands is due to the ever- increasing centralisation of administrative functions and the gelding of local government which has been a political leitmotif since the founding of the state.

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