Do voters want Independents or Others?
Published 16/07/2015 | 02:30
The arrival of the Social Democrats means three separate groups have emerged from the Dáil's Independent ranks.
And already many people at Leinster House are playing the numbers game.
Which one of these will grab a slice of government next time? Could one or other, or even all three, have some presence in the next Cabinet, driving a chunk of their agenda for change?
Those questions are hard to answer just yet. But another question may help: do voters want Independents, or do they want "Others"?
The three new groupings are partly a response to voters' disillusionment with established parties and traditional politics.
Support for Independents has consistently been around a quarter of the electorate for quite some time - rising to a high of a third. Many of the non-party politicians are looking at how best to harness this public mood.
They are also keenly concerned to avoid a dissipation of their strength when an election nears and voters become more focused upon choosing a government. Banding together is seen as a way of maintaining relevance at this vital stage in proceedings.
First up was Renua Ireland, best known as Lucinda Creighton's party, launched in stages in January and March. It is backboned by Fine Gael refuseniks who parted company with Enda Kenny on the abortion issue, but is working on broadening its canvass.
They were followed in late March by the unlikely alliance led by Deputies Shane Ross, Finian McGrath and Michael Fitzmaurice. It's simply called the Independent Alliance.
As of yesterday we have former Labour deputy Róisín Shortall, former Democratic Left member Catherine Murphy, and another unlikely ally, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. They will call themselves the Social Democrats.
All three groups have people of ability and merit behind them who have shown an ability to get elected to Leinster House. But a danger for Renua Ireland and the Social Democrats is that they may yet rue the loss of the "independent" tag which surely resonates with people more than that of an emerging party brand.
Renua Ireland, and even more so in case of the Social Democrats, have each a huge slog ahead of them if they are to establish and maintain brand recognition with potential voters.
Renua currently has three TDs and one Senator, and has said it will field up to 20 candidates and hopes to have some 10 deputies after the next election.
The Independent Alliance began with five TDs and one Senator, and again is talking about fielding 20 candidates with perhaps a slightly better outcome than Renua.
The Social Democrats start with three TDs, with as yet unspecified ambitions to expand.
How any or all of these will feature in a Dáil reduced from 166 TDs to 158, and where the magic government number will be 79, remains to be seen. But their presence could prove vital.