Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rise of the non-party politicians is a mixed blessing


Luke 'Ming' Flanagan at the counting of votes in the European Election in Castlebar. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Luke 'Ming' Flanagan at the counting of votes in the European Election in Castlebar. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

THE rise of the Independent is an angry reaction against the established political parties, but the move towards non-party politicians has its own disadvantages.

Disability campaigners and anti-austerity protesters are set to take a huge amount of local authority seats at the expense of party-affiliated candidates.

The move will be a welcome breath of fresh air for many, but the inexperience of many new councillors will lead to teething problems.

RTE's exit poll had Independents taking a massive 34pc of the local election vote – and political geographer Adrian Kavanagh suggested they will take more than 240 council seats. The final result may be a little off the predicted figures, but nonetheless it has been a huge election for independent candidates.

Who many of the country's new independent councillors are and what they are likely to achieve once they take their seats in local authorities is unclear. Many will be community activists who made a name for themselves campaigning on behalf of disadvantaged people in their constituencies. Their experience of local Government will be limited, but their ambition for change will be strong.

Others will be former members of the main political parties who feel their organisations no longer represent their views.

These councillors may have already served on councils and will feel they have more of a point to prove now they are representing themselves.

A large proportion of the new councillors will come from the left side of the political sphere, but there will also be a significant number of more centrist and/or right-leaning politicians.

The mixture is sure to lead to tensions in council chambers, with members positioning themselves against the established parties and each other.

Independents traditionally prop up council majorities led by the main parties in return for seats on committees and boards. Where the power will now lie in many local authorities will depend on weeks of negotiation after the final results are announced.

Whether the massive rise in support for Independents will remain as high when a general election is called in two years' time remains to be seen.

The number of Independent TDs certainly increased when the country last went to the polls. There are 25 deputies currently classed as Independents.

The Dail's Technical Group often provides entertaining moments for political watchers, but infighting and political blunders have left many questioning its effectiveness. The majority of the group are left-leaning politicians, but it also features members from the world of high finance.

Mick Wallace's tax affairs and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's penalty points fiasco split the group and caused embarrassment for all its members. There have also been internal rows over speaking time, with members claiming discrimination because of their political positions.

If the trend towards Independents continues when the electorate goes to the polls at the next general election, the already unpredictable opposition benches are likely to descend further into farce.

Irish Independent Supplement

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