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You don't have to form a new party to make an impact


Other options: Róisín Shortall

Other options: Róisín Shortall

Other options: Róisín Shortall

A friendly piece of advice to Stephen Donnelly, Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy: don't do it. They're three very smart, very able people, well capable of making their own minds up. But to this outsider, there's a far more effective path for each of the three to take than setting up a new party.

Donnelly should join Fianna Fáil; Shortall should rejoin Labour and Murphy, the star Dáil performer of the past couple of months, should stay as an Independent.

Donnelly remains something of an enigma, to this writer at least. Obviously highly bright, likeable and a really effective and persuasive communicator, he has all the qualities to go to the very top of politics.

But there are times when you wish he'd just go for it and be a little less cautious, a little less politically correct. He is something of a media darling, but the suspicion - which may not be fair - is that he is too concerned about what the media think of, and say, about him.

The Aer Lingus/IAG story was a good example. Given his business expertise, you'd have expected Donnelly to be first out stating the strong business rationale for the IAG takeover. But it was left to a socialist, Pat Rabbitte, to spell out the reality that former flag carriers have a very shaky future as stand-alone operators.

No doubt Donnelly has his reasons for being so quiet on the issue. And, of course, there are times when every politician - even Leo Varadkar - has to bite his or her tongue and play it clever. But voters also need to know where you stand on issues, even if it means alienating some of them. You can't please all of the people all of the time.

Many of those voters and - probably even more figures in the media - would be horrified at the thought of him joining Fianna Fáil. But if Donnelly wants to make a difference, to make a mark, it's the best opportunity for him to do so.

It's true most Fianna Fáil TDs are far more conservative on social issues than Donnelly, but Michéal Martin isn't so different from the Wicklow TD. Assurances from the leadership about freedom of conscience on key social issues would overcome any potential concerns he might be hemmed into, positions he's uncomfortable with. There is also the more critical matter of Fianna Fáil's role in the crash. It would be churlish to dismiss concerns Donnelly inevitably would have about joining a party that failed in government to put the brakes on the runaway boom.

But in cold, pragmatic terms, is that not outweighed by the potential for him to develop as a national player via Fianna Fáil?

There is the argument that Donnelly joining Fianna Fáil would benefit the party more than him. Certainly, attracting such an impressive urban and liberally minded deputy would be a massive shot in the arm for Fianna Fáil. We know they've wooed him in the past.

There is, though, a potential upside for Donnelly too. The party is not out of the doldrums yet, but it's here to stay. It will likely have 35-plus seats in the next Dáil. And Donnelly would immediately be one of its key figures, even a potential future leader.

He would have the ability to be to Fianna Fáil what Michael McDowell was to the PDs for 20 years, shaping the policy direction of the party.

The same holds for Róisín Shortall and Labour. Her family background may be Fianna Fáil, but it's hard to think of somebody more 'Labour' than her. She's obviously had her issues with the party. But are they really insurmountable? Labour could be down to 10 or fewer TDs at the next election and Shortall, given the respect she commands from the public, could be a central player in rebuilding Labour and a potential cabinet minister.

Catherine Murphy has always been an impressive operator, capable of lifting her head out of parish pump politics to look at the national picture - evidenced by the constitutional challenge she took against the Dáil constituencies in 2007. She is already hugely effective and influential as an independent. It's difficult to see the upside for her joining a political party.

There is, of course, the possibility a new party featuring Donnelly, Shortall and Murphy could win half a dozen seats and end up in government with Fine Gael and Labour.

That can't be discounted.

But the worry is they'd be squeezed by Sinn Féin, the hard left and Labour and end up exactly the sum of the parts, holding their three seats and largely irrelevant.

There are also concerns about the compatibility of the three. Donnelly is right of centre on economics, left of centre on social issues. Labour insiders say Shortall is the opposite. Catherine Murphy is more old-style left wing.

And do the three TDs really want to spend the next six months traversing the country trying to bed down potential candidates? It's no easy task, nor is coming up with the funding to fight an election. Perhaps they do.

Perhaps, this is something they feel they not only can do, but have to do. If that's the case, good luck to them. But they do have options. No harm to consider those options before jumping.

Shane Coleman is the presenter of the Sunday Show, 10am on Newstalk.com

Irish Independent