It is fashionable to be Independent at the moment, but given the record of Independents nationally and locally, Insider is not exactly sure why. True, political parties are not that popular right now, and Independents do not have to carry that baggage, but what have they ever actually done? What is their purpose?
In the Dáil, the Independent benches are widely regarded as dysfunctional. Despite some able performances, outrageous comments, and some good one-liners, they have not actually achieved anything. This rag-bag of businessmen, Trotskyites, socialists, and more, are entirely incoherent, an example of disorganised chaos at its finest.
The recent attempt to rally them around a Right2Change banner saw Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins and People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd-Barrett having a shameless falling out through the column inches of our national papers. They disagreed over working with Sinn Féin in the future after they had also signed up with the programme. Joe’s opposition to the Shinners stemmed from the fact he thought they were austerity junkies in Northern Ireland whose political strategy in the Republic was to exploit people’s fears with false promises.
Over on the right we have Shane Ross who has formed an independent alliance of convenience with turf-cutter champion and Ming heir Michael Fitzmaurice and the former Workers Party member John Halligan - not even Insider can figure out the thinking behind that one. The whole debacle is best illustrated by the now infamous day the Independents fell out, not over policy, principles or politics, but because they could not agree on speaking time!
The angry and the ineffectual?
We have a good reflection of the Dail chaos here in Galway West too. For better or worse, we have our own band of Independent crusaders, ready to join the chaotic benches in Leinster House - and they also come from all angles. Galway may not be privileged to have The Two Ronnies (now that would be a good laugh ), but even better we have The Two Tommies - Roddy and Hoolahan!
On a more serious note, seeking re-election is the affable Noel Grealish TD. A nice county councillor type who spends his time doing local council stuff in Claregalway and Carnmore. Noel used to have a bit of pull back in the day when, as a Progressive Democrat TD, he had the ear of Mary Harney and Michael McDowell (anyone remember their role in the economic crash? ) but that has long since gone.
Dep Grealish now finds himself a biteen ineffectual on the national stage. To that then, Noel has decided he won’t actually do much of the TD stuff at all. He doesn’t do debates that much, doesn’t like committees, and doesn’t vote a whole lot. It might all be a bit harmless really if it was not for the fact he draws down a full TD salary and takes up a Dail seat that could be used for the purpose it was designed for.
On the opposite scale we have city councillor Catherine Connolly. Catherine wants to be a TD - although nobody really knows why. Her great strength is her uncanny psychic ability to spot a problem and subsequently get angry about it - particularly if the press is about. And if you yourself are angry about something, you can be damn sure she will be too. Shocked, outraged, and appalled on a weekly basis, her nerves must be shot!
What Catherine does not do is solutions, policies, proposals, or economics, but when describing and talking about problems is your game and forte, who needs solutions? Catherine would fit in great on the Independent benches of Dáil Eireann. Not great at making allies of any kind, she could shout loudly and angrily, row with Joe Higgins and Boyd-Barrett fella as to who is angrier and appalled, which seat is hers, and important things like that.
And you are?
Insider could not let the day go by without talking about Cllr Mike Cubbard. You know Mike right? He’s the self-appointed bright shining light of the city council and lets all and sundry know this on his Facebook page. Honest. Mike decided to make the upcoming General Election his fourth election in six years. He’s an election-aholic at this stage.
Mike’s burning ambition remains a mystery to most. He does get annoyed about things like Catherine does, but then he’s a big supporter of Noel Grealish’s too. His big reason for running in the General Election is crime? Social justice? Nuclear disarmament? No, there’s a vacancy apparently and he thinks he has a chance. I wonder did he clear it with Dep Grealish first? Or maybe he just likes putting up posters of himself all over the place.
The Independents get too soft a deal. They may be colourful but are completely ineffective. They play no meaningful role of any kind in our State’s affairs. They will not go into government and do not provide effective opposition. They don’t actually achieve anything of substance. Political parties, whether we like what they say or not, produce a manifesto at election time, and present a policy platform and a plan for the State’s future. They are willing to govern, to make decisions, and to be held accountable for them. Where is the Independent's plan for our future? What is their vision for Ireland?
Whether Galway West is best served by having Independents in the Dail is doubtful. Independents may be fashionable right now but fashions come and go - and so too do those without credible, achievable, long-term goals. A vote for an Independent is arguably a wasted vote, but only the voters get to decide that.