‘A political earthquake, the collapse of the two-party system’

Independents were to the fore but may not become part of the next government, writes political correspondent Juno McEnroe.
‘A political earthquake, the collapse of the two-party system’

THE general election saw a huge anti-establishment vote, reflected in the large number of Independents who secured seats, thereby denying traditional parties places in the Dáil.

The rise of the Independents and small parties, predicted in the last Dáil, came to fruition and is now being described as “a political earthquake”.

Nonetheless, there were upsets too.

Shane Ross, the putative leader of the Independent Alliance, was the first TD to be elected to the 32nd Dáil, topping the poll in the affluent Dublin-Rathdown constituency. The alliance wanted a “breakthrough” and will support a government — as long as their charter of principles are agreed to.

Its numbers were added to with Galway East electing Sean Canney, but long-time independent Finian McGrath was fighting to keep his seat last night in Dublin Bay North. The alliance’s ambitions will also have been strengthened by the election of Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran in Longford-Westmeath as well as other candidates who were still in contention for seats as counts finished last night across the country.

Various incumbent Independents on the left were also comfortably returned on the weekend, including Clare Daly, Mick Wallace, and Joan Collins, who all want to scrap water charges.

In Munster, the Healy-Raes won two seats after Michael helped his brother Danny get across the line in Kerry. The former topped the poll with some 20,378 first preferences and had a discreet warning about his return to Leinster House this time.

“Some of the smart Alecs in Dublin who may have picked on me in the past. Well, you know what? They’ll have to pick through him to get to me.”

Elsewhere, Independent Dr Michael Harty won in Clare, capitalising on rural concerns about health.

Other Independents hung on, despite strong competition in Dublin.

Dublin Central Independent Maureen O’Sullivan was philosophical about her recovery in a count in securing the last seat there.

“I know what Lazarus felt like,” she quipped, after taking the third and final seat.

However, it was not all smiles and gains for others.

Renua leader Lucinda Creighton went out with a crash in Dublin Bay South, with her party set to return none of its 26 candidates by last night.

The Social Democrats will be happy with their impressive inroads with their 14 candidates, notably Gary Gannon’s challenge in Dublin Central.

But at the end of the day, the new party only managed to return its three co-founders Stephen Donnelly, Roisín Shortall, and Catherine Murphy. Shortall maintains the party can now build for its future.

While much was made of the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit grouping for this election, their gains were minimal, with an increase in first-preference votes for candidates.

A breakthrough included the election of Gino Kenny in Dublin Mid-West, while colleagues Paul Murphy, Ruth Coppinger, and Richard Boyd Barrett all held their seats in the capital. Kenny’s opinion of a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael coalition, suggests what the AAA/PBP is willing to face now: “Civil war politics was over a long time ago, what we’re going to have now is class warfare.”

A notable victory for the group included the election of long-time councillor Mick Barry, who was contesting his fourth election, after he won the third seat in Cork-North Central.

Whether the Independents, AAA/PBP or Social Democrats are asked or willing to enter into coalition talks with larger parties remains to be seen.

Ross’s Alliance is probably the most fluid for any make-up, while the AAA/PBP demands to scrap Irish Water and target high earners could be problematic.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan noted how his party, wiped out in the 2011 elections, would now make a comeback.

The former minister was also delighted when party deputy leader Catherine Martin got elected in Dublin-Rathdown. A relieved but stoical Ryan recalled how his chances had failed in 2011 as well as when he tried his hand in the 2014 European elections.

He admitted his wife thought he was “delusional” as he thought he would be elected the previous times.

“I told her at two in the morning at the last European elections, ‘honey get ready for the morning, we’re going to be elected’. And found myself at four o’clock in the morning sneaking back into bed, keeping very quiet. I can tell her this time, I wasn’t delusional, I wasn’t mad.”

For many of the Independents and other smaller parties though, the words of AAA/PBP returned TD Paul Murphy will sum up how they feel, particularly in Dublin, where non-traditional party candidates could secure almost 40% of votes.

Murphy said: “What we’re seeing is a political earthquake, the collapse of the two-party system.”

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