There is a tradition of independent representatives in Dáil Eireann. The names that spring most readily to mind in the past two decades are Tony Gregory, Michael Lowry and the one and only Jackie Healy Rae.
They cross a very wide political spectrum but the one common thread was their ability to reach a niche, local audience and to wring concessions for them from central government. Their geography was different, from the Kerry mountains to the streets of inner city Dublin but their continued electoral success was based on keeping their electorate happy.
In this election there is a new breed of independent. Over 100 are listed as already having declared in today’s Irish Times, as many as are declared for Fine Gael.
As in the past they range from the left wing represented by the People Before Profit Party to those far on the right such as former Libertas handler John McGuirk. Michael Healy Rae seeks to continue the dynasty in South Kerry while there are many with high profiles such as Joe Higgins, Mattie McGrath, Michael Lowry, Maureen O’Sullivan and Finian McGrath.
Many more are new to politics. Dylan Haskins, Paul Somerville and others are standing on the basis that ‘if you don’t do something, then you do nothing, to relieve the state we’re in,’ as the backing track to Haskins excellent campaign video goes.
Can they get elected though on the basis of ‘voting for the future’? You have to admire their vigour in coming out of the stands and taking to the pitch but will they have the local pulling power to get a seat and if they do will they be able to change the system?
George Lee was so disenchanted that he walked within a year. In order to change from within it will require a lot of hard work, akin to trekking through treacle and with no certainty that the system won’t still win in the end. That is democracy. It is a slow moving animal and does not like upstarts trying to buck the status quo.
Watching Paul Gogarty in the 30th Dáil clearly struggle with his personal beliefs and the pressures of real politic should have been instructive for those who seek to change things overnight.
Will the bright young voices, and Shane Ross for that matter, have the street fighter instinct and the hide of a rhinocerous to keep fighting when battles are so rarely won?
Will the electorate from Ringsend to the Ring of Kerry set local influence aside to elect a candidate eager to perform on the national stage, even if it is at their expense?
If Fine Gael get close to a majority, will independents row in with them and what will their demands be? ‘Hope’ won’t cut it as a policy once the votes are cast and the sheep trading has begun. Will it be local hospitals or the reform of the HSE that is on their list? Will that be what their electorate sent them to Kildare Street to do?
If the Gilmore Gale blows strong enough to usher in a historic realignment along left/right wing lines, will the United Left Alliance temper their ideology in order to attain government. If not then is there really any true benefit in standing?
Of course it is possible that independents will be marginalised in the Dáil and their fiery enthusiasm fade. Five years is a longer time to sit in the background for a 23 year old than it is for a 60 year old.
We fought less than 100 years ago to become an independent state. Are we ready now to become a state of independents?