Rise of Independents - New era for political democracy

Whoever takes over the reins as Labour leader will have his or her work cut out to reboot a party that has all but flatlined. But that is not the full story of what happened in the local and European elections.

Rise of Independents - New era for political democracy

The rise of Sinn Féin and the demise of Labour has masked the mixed fortunes of Fine Gael which has every reason to be fearful of an angry electorate in the general election in two years’ time. That, of course, assumes that the current administration will run its course, which it may not. It has also, to some extent, clouded the rise of independents and non-party candidates among our body politic. Is this the death of the party system as we know it? It may well be.

While alliances have already been forged among independents and are likely to increase, the strict three-line whip system used by the pillar parties is dead and gone. You cannot be thrown out of a movement or an alliance but, as the likes of Lucinda Creighton knows, you can be kicked out of a parliamentary party.

Creighton was expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party when she defied the party whip. She and six others expelled formed the Reform Alliance, described as a “loose alliance” rather than a political party.

So, does that mean we are facing a new era of such loose alliances and political movements, flanked by highly impassioned, animated and vocal independents?

It may well be. With the elevation of Ming Flanagan and Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes to the European parliament, we are already looking at two by-elections — one in Roscommon/South Leitrim and the other in Dublin South-West before the end of the year. If this week’s results are anything to go by, those two Dáil seats could easily be filled by independents or non-party candidates. Does that mean democracy as we know it is dead? It may well be, but that is not such a bad thing.

We need our independents just as much as we needed our independence and anyone who thinks they are no more than a bunch of one-issue moaners would be wise to think again. Independent TD Mick Wallace has challenged not just the sartorial elegance of the Dáil but also its meekness in taking on government ministers.

While FG deputies were constrained in asking awkward questions of former justice minister Alan Shatter, Wallace went straight for the jugular, demanding why he was ignoring Garda whistleblowers. Without his input, it is likely that Sergeant Maurice McCabe would still be whistling in the wind.

Independents in the Dáil were also able to ask the awkward questions of a government intent on fulfilling the wishes of our neo-colonial masters, the troika.

At the same time, many Labour TDs submitted to an edict of omerta when it came to the Government’s austerity programme, even though every fibre of their being screamed otherwise. How is it that a government that came to power on a programme of compassion could twist themselves into a whirlwind of U-turns?

It can only be that they became estranged from the plain people of Ireland. Into that void has entered the independents and with them genuine concerns that political instability will lead to a reduction in international investment. This must be avoided at all costs. It may be that government ministers have been spending too much time on the government jet or with high-flying politicians in Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin and beyond. The recent Fianna Fáil-led series of coalitions took 14 years to become arrogant, overbearing and out of touch with the electorate. The Fine Gael-led government has managed to do it in three which, one supposes, suggests a greater efficiency by them in that area.

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