Wednesday 28 September 2016

The paradox of Independents: the kingmakers who didn’t vote for a Taoiseach

All progress on forming a government has been put on hold until various individual deals can be cut

Published 12/03/2016 | 02:30

Michael Healy-Rae thanks his supporters from the bonnet of his jeep with brother Danny and Cllr Johnny Healy-Rae. Photo: Frank McGrath
Michael Healy-Rae thanks his supporters from the bonnet of his jeep with brother Danny and Cllr Johnny Healy-Rae. Photo: Frank McGrath

Less than 24 hours after failing to vote on the country's next Taoiseach, Mattie McGrath was out selling daffodils on the main street of Cahir.

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It was a refreshingly lighthearted pastime in contrast with the onerous task of the previous day - of voting for the nation's next Taoiseach. A process in which he had declined to take part.

In between the roars of post-election support and the congratulatory claps on the back that came his way as he stood distributing the yellow blooms for the Irish Cancer Society fundraiser, was knitted the odd bit of criticism, the Tipperary Independent admitted.

"They're saying: 'We elected ye, now off with ye and do the job'," he revealed.

His line of defence is that he is: "Up there, talking to whoever wants to talk to me."

It's not just McGrath's constituents but the entire electorate who have been left frustrated by the development of a political vacuum in direct opposition to their own wishes, having dutifully flocked to the polls a fortnight ago.

And yet the first Dáil session came and went with a distressing lack of progress, offset by a heavy-handed display of dithering that was pure pantomime.

The people have spoken - but the 32nd Dáil appears to require an interpreter.

Up the stairs, off to the wings and down again filed the swathes of deputies - all but raising their shoulders in exaggerated gestures of hopelessness.

McGrath, along with fellow rural Independent TDS Noel Grealish, Denis Naughten, Michael Collins and Dr Michael Harty, were the only five to remain in their seats throughout the voting process.

The other Independents and smaller party groupings voted no, declining either of the potential Taoisigh.

And yet it was impossible to ignore the glaring paradox in their all saying one thing and doing another. It was as if they didn't have skin in the game when, despite their own in-house voting failure, their calls for progress in forming a government grew ever more shrill.

"The result of this election is not a problem, it's a solution," declared Shane Ross - who voted no to both Martin and Kenny.

"Ye'll have to get together," demanded Danny Healy-Rae in his maiden speech, also voting no to both.

"Are we seriously thinking we go back to the people and say we're not happy with how you voted, would you please vote again," agreed an incredulous John Halligan.

Every individual had the duty to form a government, he said, adding: "So do it."

He too, voted no to either.

With a minority government now looking like the only option, the Independents will be kingmakers and are open to the best offer on the table.

The five rural Independents did not see the point in beating around the bush with an insincere vote.

"There's no point showing your hand either way until some reform package is put on the table and some reason why to vote for them," said McGrath with practical guile.

But abstaining is not a process with which he is comfortable, he confessed impatiently, saying: "I hate abstaining. I'm not an abstentionist ever."

The main reason he did so this time was because he hadn't actually spoken with Enda Kenny yet.

It was supposed to happen last week but it was put on hold. Now it looks like the conversation will have to wait until after St Patrick's Day.

He's not overly certain it should be Enda for Taoiseach in any case. "The views of the people are that they voted this government out. That's the message I'm getting."

"But we'll see what he can offer," added McGrath.

He talks of rejuvenating urban hubs outside the M50 and of young people in rural Ireland going off to live in Australia.

He knows the power of his little grouping. Independents will have to be involved in the next government and there will have to be Dáil reform otherwise there will be "anarchy", he claims.

"The people voted in two elections for massive change," he said, adding they have to deliver that, as well as a new way of conducting Dáil business.

On the doorsteps of Galway West during the election campaign, Noel Grealish referred to Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin as "Tweedledum and Tweedledee".

He's since held talks with both and opted to abstain because if he cuts a deal with them at some stage in the next few weeks, he felt it would be "hypocritical".

"Why would I go voting against them - they didn't do anything on me. I'm an Independent. We'll see what happens after that," he said.

He has met both and sat and chatted with Enda for an hour - but in the end informed them that he would be abstaining from the vote and they agreed it was best.

Grealish wouldn't be drawn on what his 'red line' issues or demands might entail, only saying: "It's important to put the country first" and he will be meeting both leaders again.

Dáil reform is vital, he said, pointing to the "antics of Sinn Féin" in the debates, asking if this was how it was going to be for the next few years.

"It's going to be a very sad Dáil," he said, adding: "The sooner reform comes the better."

Michael Collins was more fervent about what he hopes to achieve as a kingmaker.

No personal trophies and no "parochial shopping list" - just deliverance for rural Ireland at large. Broadband, roads, better fishery deals and more satisfactory home-help services. And he wants it all in writing.

"I want to know what is going to happen with rural Ireland. I will not vote for a Taoiseach that doesn't have rural Ireland on the agenda," he said.

He abstained because nobody had presented him with anything concrete, he said, pointing out: "Would you sign a blank cheque?"

Irish Independent

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