The rise of the Independent will not spark a revolution
Published 07/02/2016 | 02:30
With just 19 days to go before the citizens march to the ballot boxes to exercise their democratic right, the appetite for change seems to be as strong as ever.
One of the most significant shifts in the political sphere over the past five years has been the rise of the Independent voter.
Never before have so many people turned their backs on the established parties in favour of non-aligned candidates who are demanding we do things differently in our national parliament.
There is an expectation among the traditional parties that the Independent voter will see sense in the coming weeks and eventually vote for what they know.
But polls are repeatedly showing this may be a naive assumption.
Only last week, a poll showed Independent/other voters (which includes the smaller and newly established parties) up two points to 25pc.
This suggests a quarter of the electorate will not give their number one preference to Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein.
In the same Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, a massive 63pc of people said they wanted to see a change of government after the election.
So that's where we are at - people want something new, different and more reflective of their individual outlooks.
But what impact will these voters have on election day and will it spark a democratic revolution?
The established parties want to create a sense of fear around voting for Independents and/or smaller parties by insisting these inexperienced and unknown entities will bring chaos to national politics and threaten the economic recovery.
Maybe so, but two years ago the country voted 250 Independent/other candidates into seats on our city and county councils, and, to date, the local authority system has not collapsed.
However, national and local politics are very different beasts and it's all very well voting Jimmy or Jane on to the council to get the potholes fixed but contributing to the running of the country is something else all together.
At present, there are almost 120 Independent candidates declared to run.This includes members of Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice's Independent Alliance, which they insist is not a political party but is willing to support the next government should their demands be met.
This does not include newly formed parties Renua and Social Democrats, or the various left-wing offerings.
One of the differences between this election and the last is the emergence of prominent Independent or smaller party candidates ahead of the vote.
Many of those Independents elected in 2011 were relative unknowns in political circles, such as Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and Thomas Pringle, but are now household names and likely to be re-elected.
There are also those TDs who left parties and joined new political parties such as former Fine Gael TDs Lucinda Creighton and Billy Timmins, who joined Renua, and ex-Labour TD Roisin Shortall who along with Independents Stephen Donnelly and Catherine Murphy formed the Social Democrats.
All stand a good chance of re-election and could be part of government formation talks after the election.
There is also a number of local councillors who have made a name for themselves over the past five years through local activism, such as Kevin 'Boxer' Moran in Longford/Westmeath and Christy Burke in Dublin Central.
Maynooth University lecturer Dr Adrian Kavanagh argues that every constituency in the country has at least one Independent or small party candidate who could take a seat.
"You look at almost every constituency in the country, except for maybe Laois, there is an obvious strong Independent," Dr Kavanagh told the Sunday Independent.
However, he added: "If one hundred other Independents decide they want to run in the coming weeks, which can happen, there will be a lot of wasted Independent votes."
Judging on the most recent opinion polls, Dr Kavanagh believes 36 Independents/other candidates will be elected once the votes are counted.
This takes into account the fact non-aligned candidates and smaller parties are not transfer friendly and the big winners will actually be the established parties which will benefit from lower preferences from Independent candidates.
Before it was dissolved, there were 30 Independent and smaller party TDs in the Dail and, if Dr Kavanagh's prediction is accurate, an additional six deputies is hardly going to spark a democratic revolution.