Wednesday 21 November 2018

No-party TDs set to upset the Dail applecart

Alan O'Keeffe

AN invasion of independent TDs threatens to upset some of the old ways of doing things in the Dail.

Barring recount upsets, 15 independents will enter the chamber next month. The presence of so many non-party politicians will mean the old political consensus cannot be taken for granted.

Already, some of them are considering forming an official political grouping or alliance of seven or more independents which would give individuals the chance to participate in priority time in the Dail - during debates and question time.

Such a group would also be entitled to other benefits by virtue of its size in the Oireachtas. Ten TDs can unite to force a vote to be called in the Dail on any issue.

And a newly-formed group or alliance could also seek to change the way the opposition parties operate in the chamber, by demanding to be treated as a significant ally.

Much depends on the willingness of the independents to do business with each other, as well as seeking action on their demands from the incoming government.

New and veteran independent TDs rankle at accusations that a pact between Fianna Fail and the PDs, or a small coterie of independents, would make the majority of independents little more than an 'irrelevant menagerie.'

A tight grouping of independents united on such matters as health services could operate as a 'flying column' to ambush ministers in the chamber at every opportunity to keep health at the top of the political agenda.

A health alliance grouping seems to be the most obvious platform to unite independents.

The doyen of the independents in the Oireachtas, Tony Gregory, has 20 years service in the Dail and pulled off the biggest coup ever by a TD with the Gregory Deal which resulted in Charles Haughey agreeing a #200m package to tackle disadvantage in Dublin.

He told the Irish Independent last night he would try again to form a group of independent TDs in the new Dail to work together, to make them stronger for their mutual advantage.

"At the beginning of the last Dail I called a meeting of all the independents to discuss coming together. But I might as well have been talking to the wall when it came to talking with the four TDs whom I'd describe as Fianna Fail in another guise - Fox, Blaney, Gildea and Healy-Rae," he said.

But this time around, there are enough independents to form an official grouping who are not already "in cahoots" with Fianna Fail, he said.

Such an independent grouping, whether a loose alliance or a tight unit, could achieve much through co-operation, said the Dublin Central veteran.

Also, many independents, along with the Greens and Sinn Fein, could form a broader alliance which would outnumber Fine Gael and claim the right to be the main opposition grouping, he said.

He said Ruairi Quinn could then be advanced as the actual leader of the opposition and offer a real alternative on policy.

New independent TD for Dublin North Central, Finian McGrath, said last night he would be more than willing to discuss such an alliance of independents with Tony Gregory and other independents TDs such as Seamus Healy of Tipperary South.

He campaigned as a member of the Independent Health Alliance seeking better health services for patients, people with disabilities, and carers.

A new disability bill would be one of the first obvious goals to share with his new Dail colleagues, Mr McGrath said.

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