A NEW political force led by champion of rural Ireland and Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice is set to radically shake-up the political system.
Fitzmaurice is quietly building up an alliance of like-minded politicians to take on the established political parties ahead of a future general election.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, the Roscommon South Leitrim TD insists the new political organisation will not pursue a Right or Left agenda but rather be “straight down the middle”.
Fitzmaurice, who is also chairperson of the Turf Cutters and Contractors Association, expects to run around 25 candidates from both rural Ireland and major cities when the country goes to the polls. If elected, the group will seek to overhaul how the country is governed through sweeping constitutional changes.
The alliance will not operate under a party whip and policies will be based on “what is good for the country”.
With the electorate growing increasingly disillusioned by petty bickering between political rivals in Leinster House, Fitzmaurice’s new politics will be seen as a welcome alternative to voters.
His movement is likely to gazump TDs Lucinda Creighton and Shane Ross who are moving to take advantage of the monumental rise in support for Independent politicians among voters since the onset of the recession. Since his surprise poll-topping performance at the Roscommon-South Leitrim by-election, Fitzmaurice’s disenchantment with the political system has fermented into a calling to bring about “real change”.
Discreet meetings and phone calls with potential candidates have taken place in recent weeks with a view to forming a political alliance.
Councillors, TDs and senators from all parties as well as Independents are on his radar and if agreement can be reached they will be welcomed under his umbrella of Independent candidates at the next General Election. Traditional ideologies are off the table and reform of the political system will be at the group’s core.
“I would be talking to different people who I would have met travelling around different parts of Ireland,” he said. “I would be sussing out what I would call like-minded people.” Fitzmaurice is a realist, and says it is the people who will determine what happens next.
However, he believes the time for “shouting at politicians on the telly” is over and those who want to bring about change need to make themselves heard. “The first thing you have to do is encourage people in different places to run and there are people I have spoken to in different parts of Ireland who are going to run,” he said.
The group’s support will focus on the average working man and woman struggling to make ends meet, but it will also back entrepreneurs seeking to create much-needed jobs.
“The reality of it is a lot of people live in the real world,” he said “Every morning of every week they get up and go to work. They rear kids, they send them to college and lead what we call a normal life.”
His vision harks back to Ireland of the 1940s when, after years of austerity, two political movements — Clann na Talmhan and Clann na Poblachta — sought to replace the established parties.
Clann na Talmhan represented small landowners and Clann na Poblachta was set up by republican activists disillusioned with the policies of Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail. Fitzmaurice cites former Clann na Poblachta Health Minister, Dr Noel Browne, famed for ridding the country of TB. Dr Browne’s party and Clann na Talmhan formed part of the State’s first inter-party Government along with Fine Gael, the Labour Party and a clatter of Independents. Fitzmaurice is open to forming a Government with any party, but only as long as they agree to more transparent governance.
Forced to watch daily displays of one-upmanship between the Government and the opposition has cemented his belief that a unified cross-party approach to legislating is the only way to secure the country’s future.
If his new alliance is successful at the polls, he will seek to bring about sweeping constitutional changes that would allow the Dail run its full term. He believes losing votes on legislation should not bring down a government.
“This craic of the Dail falling because a bit of legislation didn’t go in — I think it’s a waste of time,” he said.
“People made a decision to elect a government or elect people and when they send them somewhere they expect them to do things to the best of their ability and they put their faith in them to do that and that’s democracy. I think, even if it’s only three years, the Dail should be allowed see out its term.”
His vision of parliamentary change would also see both sides of the Dail chamber contribute to the formation of policy and legislation.Ministers would confer with their opposite numbers on the opposition benches before decisions are taken.
“We should bang heads together,” he said. “I’m not saying I have all the answers to everything — no one has. Everyone should try to feed into a system with openness rather than saying ‘I’m in the monopoly now and I’m not going to listen to you’.” He added: “I’m a firm believer that if you saw a person in opposition that was good enough to be in charge of something then have the guts and the courage to put them in charge.”
He applies the same principles to the civil service where he would like to see people promoted based on their ability rather than years of employment. As a turf-cutting contractor, the TD knows what it’s like to come up against bureaucracy and believes “red tape” is blocking employment.
It may not be a popular stance but Fitzmaurice, who is a member of a group water scheme, is in favour of water meters. He wants clean water available to every citizen free of charge but any wastage should be paid for. “People aren’t against everything, they live in the real world,” he concludes. “You can’t be a populist saying we’ll have you all driving around in Ferraris because you won’t. There is a happy medium between everything."