Profile: Assured Donnelly makes big impression - but is short on detail
Published 17/02/2016 | 02:30
The three small party leaders were the big winners in the television election debate - but Stephen Donnelly was the biggest winner among the trio.
The 40-year-old Wicklow TD already had a certain national profile as someone who made his mark at Leinster House since arriving there in March 2011. Thanks to his assured and trenchant contribution to the RTÉ leaders' debate, he now has a wider audience in an election campaign which looks to be getting ever tighter.
Donnelly was a rather unusual TD from the very start. He said he decided to stand for the Dáil as an Independent after he learnt that the EU-ECB-IMF had taken control of Ireland's finances in November 2010.
"We are standing on a beautiful, old, sinking ship - but I and a few people like me have some of the skills to fix the holes," he said earnestly, if a little immodestly, on the canvass trail in February 2011.
By then he was aged just 35, and married with two young children. He also had a pretty stellar educational and work experience CV. This included a degree in mechanical engineering from UCD, followed by stints at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard, and the Kennedy School of Government, and high-powered jobs in global consultancy.
He described his family background as a good mix of the academic and the practical. His mother was a teacher in Ballinteer, south Dublin, and he worked from a young age in the family business, Hickey Fabrics.
In Dáil debates, he was strident from the word go. He was the focus of controversy when he withdrew from the Banking Inquiry committee in summer 2014 in a row over government insistence on keeping a majority. And last July, he and fellow left-leaning TDs Catherine Murphy and Róisín Shortall launched the Social Democrats.
Donnelly had earlier been linked to other fledgling parties and had talks with Lucinda Creighton and Renua, who shared Monday's limelight with him, and with Shane Ross over his independent alliance. The Social Democrats lacked clear definition from the start and the three TDs who launched it billed themselves as joint leaders. Like all small parties, they face into this election with minimal resources when compared with the multi-million spends of the "big four".
So, Monday night's successful foray into the limelight was a welcome boost. He came across as particularly assured and impressed when he castigated the big parties' "auction politics".
But while excellent and correct about what is wrong - he was very short on what remedies we need. When pinned down on specifics, he promised "dialogue" with people like nurses, gardaí and other groups.
Yesterday he was even more vague and evasive.