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The ‘futility’ of Independent TDs? February 10, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

This from Stephen Collins in the IT this week seems a bit wide of the mark. Collins writes;

S. Donnelly’s critics appear to be equally removed from the reality of the choices facing politicians and in thrall to the notion that Independents are in some way morally superior to the TDs representing political parties.


The record number of Independents elected to the current Dáil a year ago reflected a widespread public distrust of politicians from the mainstream parties. This was part of the same anti-politician and anti- system mood across the democratic world that led to the vote for Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the United States.


It is not entirely new. The Irish politician and writer Tom Kettle remarked more than a century ago that politics is the only walk of life in which the public thinks that an amateur will do a better job than a professional.

Leading to:

The wildly erratic performance of President Trump is a stunning example of how dangerous that belief can be. To be fair to the raft of Independents elected to the 32nd Dáil, none of them promoted the kind of dangerous and hate-filled rhetoric employed by Trump. Nonetheless, the election of so many of them has left the country in a novel position, with the Dáil unable to provide the country with a majority government.

Hold on a second. Isn’t this conflating three or four different areas as if they are one. Donald Trump was the Republican Party candidate at the last election. He might be an outsider – but he stepped inside a pre-existing vehicle. As to ‘amateurs’, well I’m dubious about the proposition that politicians, all of them, aren’t in some respects amateurs of one sort or another. I don’t want to overstate that but I hope people get my drift.

But the great gaping hole in his argument is summed up in the following:

If the decision of Donnelly to throw in his lot with Fianna Fáil does nothing else, it might prompt a reality check for the political system and the electorate, and provide an insight into the hard choices faced by all TDs who aspire to be in government so as to do their best for the country.
Independents thrive on the notion that the government of the day is always wrong, but they are under no obligation to come up with realistic solutions.

And yet, in almost the same breath he has to write:

In the event, a number of Independents did eventually back the formation of the Fine Gael-led Government and were rewarded with ministerial office. How that will ultimately play out for them will be one of the fascinating aspects of the next election.
The performance of the Independent Ministers has been as varied as that of their Fine Gael colleagues, with some making a serious impact on their portfolios and others not.

Now he can argue that Independents are under no obligation to come up with realistic solutions, whatever realistic means, but how does he square that with the fact some Independents are in government. The headline which mentions how Donnelly shows the ‘futility’ of being an independent goes further than he does in the text but his intent is reasonably clear. What he does write is:

The big question is whether the involvement of Independents in the Government and the move by Donnelly to Fianna Fáil will lead to a public reassessment of the notion that Independents are somehow morally superior to party politicians.

I’ve often thought that that line was a bit overstated. Famously at least one Independent TD might be regarded with a certain scepticism on that front, some would argue many more might be. But be that as it may, generalisations about Independents abound in his piece.

There is a deeper point about them – actually many deeper points and questions. For example. What democratic structures surround Independents? How much are they sole traders or by contrast do they reflect an ideology, or a community or whatever? How do they work in tandem, how do they sustain their approaches after they retire and so on? But these are issues that Collins isn’t interested in really. For him it is party or nothing, the virtues of the former being so self-evident as to be beyond question. Interestingly he’s not really that interested in delving deeply into why this polity has, almost uniquely, quite so many independents and small parties. It’s not just disillusion with the situation in the last decade. There’s an history reaching well back. But then that’s a discussion that might throw up some inconvenient truths about the nature of this state.

As to Donnelly, he’s an odd character to use as exhibit A in this discussion given that he had already joined a political party and ‘led’ it, so to speak.


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