DANIEL MCCONNELL: Far from the baying mob, Independent Alliance members are getting things done

Members of the Independent Alliance Finian McGrath, Sean Canney, Shane Ross, John Halligan and Kevin 'Boxer' Moran

No doubt the Alliance are damaged but the gang of five have shown far more to justify their time in Government, writes Daniel McConnell.

Idiots, buffoons, gobshites.

Plonkers, eejits, crackers.

Just some of the adjectives used to describe the Independent Alliance in the past 10 days or so by some senior politicians within Government and some of the country’s top media commentators.

Even yesterday on the usual Friday panels on various radio stations, it was condemnation galore.

“Not fit for office” came the cries amid controversy over the proposed trip to North Korea and then the John Halligan “are you married?” saga.

Yes, it has not been a great week-and-a-half for the five members of the Alliance — Halligan, Shane Ross, Finian McGrath, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, and Sean Canney.

It is clear that the manner in which the North Korea story emerged caused ructions within the group with Moran and Canney incandescent with anger over not being consulted before it made the media.

Halligan was seen as the main driver of the proposal and had taken the lead on selling the merits of it, appearing on the Today With Sean O’Rourke show on RTÉ radio a week ago, even before the rural alliance members had been consulted.

Ross, too, was at best lukewarm on the idea and has since admitted he did not play any part or even see the letter which was sent to the North Korean embassy in London.

It has been confirmed that angry exchanges took between members in recent days and two of them, Seán Canney and Kevin “Boxer” Moran, believe the group has been left open to ridicule.

Moran said he had been left embarrassed by the whole affair. “It did embarrass me and they know my feelings on that now,” he said.

“This was a car crash waiting to happen,” said one source about the proposal that Ross, Halligan, and McGrath travel to North Korea on a peace mission.

As reported by Fiach Kelly in the Irish Times, the three ministers “didn’t listen to anyone, they didn’t bounce their ideas off anyone, and they are in their own mess now”.

Moran met Ross and McGrath on Monday evening and is said to have “ate them”.

However, suggestions that the alliance is near breaking point have been strongly rejected.

“We have our ‘ding dongs’, and we are not a political party. But we are well established in Government and the lads were not prepared to walk away from that,” said one member.

Far more serious has been the Halligan saga after his department was fined €7,500 by the Workplace Relations Commission after he asked a female interviewee if she was married.

The gaffe, which Halligan has now said he regrets and apologises for, has led to calls for his resignation and has forced the alliance to have a stock take as to its standing.

Halligan is likely to survive and there have been no calls from within Fine Gael for him to fall on his sword, while his alliance colleagues, despite being annoyed, at the episode are not willing to throw Halligan to the wolves.

Halligan took to the radio yesterday again to restate his apology and his regret and went on to confirm that he is willing to cover the cost of the fine so the taxpayer is not at a loss.

It has been a sorry episode for a man who is genuinely one of the great proponents of women’s’ rights in Leinster House and it has allowed the alliance’s enemies pile on the criticism.

No doubt the Alliance are damaged but the gang of five have shown far more to justify their time in Government than many of the critics would ever give them credit for.

Indeed, it is ironic that many of the critics who have lambasted the alliance were at some stage the chief apologists for the same establishment which led to the demise of this economic State less than a decade ago.

The alliance, formed in 2015, was and is a loose mixum gatherum of independents who signed up to a loose charter of principles upon which they sought election to Dáil Éireann in the 2016 general election.

Ross, the long-standing and highly popular stockbroker turned journalist and polemicist, topped the poll in Dublin South in 2011 and had hoped to be the kingmaker in government on that occasion.

He was outflanked by Enda Kenny and Fine Gael, who from an early stage indicated a preference to go into government with the Labour Party.

Ross was left frustrated and struggled at times for airtime during the 31st Dáil.

Such frustration was the chief driving force behind his decision to begin the Independent Alliance.

McGrath and Halligan had both served terms in opposition and had got to the stage where a more involved role.

All three wanted to establish a bloc that would strengthen their hands in bargaining over the formation of a government.

A host of councillors contested the election under the umbrella of the Independent Alliance but just two — Boxer Moran and Canney — made it to the promised land.

Despite being very different characters, Halligan, Ross and McGrath do a have close bond since the alliance’s formation, and their good friendship has been the main driver of their “all for one, one for all” ethos in various scraps.

But Canney and Moran are different beasts as rural TDs from the Fianna Fáil gene pool.

They are not as keen on the showpony antics of their colleagues and often disagree with them on social issues like abortion.

While the 2016 result was a devastating one for Fine Gael and Labour and left a hung Dáil, it was the opportunity Ross had sought five year’s previous.

From the off, the bloc of five alliance members plus Michael Fitzmaurice who was also in the mix, was centrally involved in government formation talks.

At the end of the day, they achieved a significant amount in the talks, both in terms of government positions and also commitments in the Programme for Government.

It secured one senior, one super junior, and two junior ministries — although one would effectively be a job-share between Canney and Moran — in the Fine Gael-led minority government.

In office, the Independent Alliance has succeeded in extracting major concessions and prizes from Fine Gael from judicial appointments reform, tighter drink driving laws, 10,000 new medical cards for the disabled, delivering justice for Grace and the other abuse victims, are just a few of their impact in Government.

The two justice-related measures — judicial appointments and drink driving — have met significant opposition from within Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, the clearest sign of how far-reaching both are.

Neither the Labour Party nor the Greens managed to achieve as much in their first 18 months in office.

By any standard, their stamp is very clearly present on this Government’s record and it is a record that any party in a minority position could be proud of.

So far from the buffoonery, the weakness of Fine Gael in office has meant major concessions have had to be offered up in order to keep the minority government in place.

The alliance has successfully managed to capitalise on that weakness and succeed in extracting their pound of flesh several times over.

Far from buffoons, the five alliance members have proven themselves to be quite the skilful politicians, despite the mob’s ire and condemnations.


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