Public anger set to fuel rise in number of independents
IRELAND has more independents in its national parliament than the rest of the western world put together – and their influence in politics here shows no sign of abating, according to the latest Sunday Independent opinion poll.
Research by a University College Cork (UCC) academic found there are just 32 elected independents across the national parliaments of the world's 36 industrial democracies.
These independents are limited to just seven countries – and half of these sit in Dail Eireann.
And according to the findings of the latest Sunday Independent/ Millward Brown nationwide poll, the rise of the independents continues.
Independents, excluding 'Don't Knows', now command 21 per cent of first preference support – up six percentage points on their general election result of 15 per cent.
The independents' showing in the latest poll is one percentage point better than Sinn Fein (20 per cent), just a single percentage point behind Fianna Fail (22 per cent) and a whopping 15 per cent better than Labour (six per cent).
The findings suggest that independents will hold significant power and influence after the local and European elections next month.
Dr Liam Weeks of the Department of Government at UCC said that while independents tend to be ostracised, and have little or no influence in the parliaments of other developed nations, go-it-alone TDs have managed to wield "great influence" in Ireland, mainly because they frequently hold the balance of power.
"From an international comparative perspective independents are a very rare phenomenon. They are not present in most democracies and Ireland is virtually unique in terms of the presence and influence independents have to play in our political system," Dr Weeks said.
He predicts the remarkable electoral performance by independents in 2011, when they won up to one in 10 Dail seats, was not a once-off.
Dr Weeks added: "They have always been in the Dail since 1922; while other parties have come and gone, independents have been an ever-present."
He points out that 40 per cent of governments since the foundation of the State have relied on independent support to form an administration.
"These have included Taoisigh such as Cosgrave, De Valera, Costello, Lemass, FitzGerald, Haughey, and most recently Ahern and Cowen. In return for independents holding this balance of power their influence has been considerable, perhaps the most famous example of which was the 1982 Gregory Deal when the late Tony Gregory supported Charlie Haughey in return for a
considerable package of spending for his constituency in Dublin Central," Dr Weeks stated in a recent address to the Independents Network – the alliance of independent TDs, senators and MEPs who are supporting non-party candidates in the forthcoming elections.
Dr Weeks said in the absence of a new political party, independents can tap into the "mood for something different".
"Ireland is somewhat unusual in that in most European countries experiencing economic recession a new party has emerged to tap into public disillusionment. Not so in Ireland. Why? One major reason is the presence of independents. They can be the outlet for public anger," he suggests.
He feels Taoiseach Enda Kenny was fundamentally correct when he suggested that Ireland was "the best little country in which to run as an independent".
"The Irish voting system of the single, transferable vote has been described by Professor David Farrell of UCD as the most candidate-centred system in the world because the way it is structured encourages voters to think about candidates when it comes to elections, and not parties, unlike most list voting systems in Europe. I don't think this is often appreciated," he added.