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Alienated showed up in droves to put Ireland's conservative forces to flight


Independent Allience candidates Cllr Marie Casserly, Cllr Ann Norton, Shane Ross TD, Cllr Deirdre O'Donovan, and Carol Hunt at the launch of the Independent Alliance at the Bridge House Hotel, Tullamore. Photo: Tony Gavin

Independent Allience candidates Cllr Marie Casserly, Cllr Ann Norton, Shane Ross TD, Cllr Deirdre O'Donovan, and Carol Hunt at the launch of the Independent Alliance at the Bridge House Hotel, Tullamore. Photo: Tony Gavin

Independent Allience candidates Cllr Marie Casserly, Cllr Ann Norton, Shane Ross TD, Cllr Deirdre O'Donovan, and Carol Hunt at the launch of the Independent Alliance at the Bridge House Hotel, Tullamore. Photo: Tony Gavin

Frank Arthur Vanderlip was a famous victim of the US Tea Dome Scandal in 1924. A maverick banker, he was forced to resign from the boards of more than 40 companies for his outspokenness at the Congressional hearings into the scandal. A fierce advocate of the public's right to know, Frank the banker was pushed into retirement by the powerful conservative forces of banking in the United States of the1920s.

Little has changed in the US. Nor has much moved in Ireland despite the great crash. In today's Ireland, whistleblowers are still shunned. Insiders are protected. Bankers are as powerful as they were in the US of the 20s. A scourge of the establishment, Frank's most famous saying was that "a conservative is a man who thinks nothing new ought to be adopted for the first time".

Ireland is stuffed with conservative political parties, conservative politicians, conservative trade unions, conservative big businesses and ruled by insiders who will never do anything "for the first time". They lack courage. They are blissfully comfortable in their present political nests. They rattle sabres at each other but close ranks when it comes to radical change.

The Dail is not the only visible evidence of the power of Irish insiders, but it is the most obvious one. That is why five independent TDs and one Senator arranged yesterday's meeting in Tullamore, County Offaly. We are the only people capable of upsetting the Irish apple cart. That is what we were elected to do. That is what the current opinion polls are demanding from us.

We expected a maximum of 40 people to respond positively to our invitation to assemble in Tullamore. Instead, almost everybody invited came. The numbers were far higher. Recently elected councillors, alienated from the Irish establishment forces, turned up in their droves to voice their disillusionment. Following the meeting and the patent enthusiasm for radical departures, we intend to put Ireland's conservative political forces to flight.

The task to ignite real change will not be easy. Even as we lay out our priorities and principles the conservative forces are screaming "instability", deliberately insinuating that our plans will make the country ungovernable. They are trying to scare voters back into the well-travelled, but failed, conservative camp.

They miss the point. We are not forming a political party. All parties have been obstacles to change. We will be catalysts. We plan to demand minimum principles and priorities, standing united despite our wide political base. We want to strip the insiders of their most treasured power, the right to appoint party loyalists to key positions, thereby infiltrating the civil service , the judiciary, the gardai and state bodies. There is only one way of doing that, by giving the power of appointment to an independent body. No political fingerprints will be allowed.

Michael Fitzmaurice, Tom Fleming, John Halligan, Finian McGrath, Gerard Craughwell and I are all united behind this simple reform that would horrify all parties, but dramatically begin the path to disinfect Irish political life. It will be resisted. The three conservative parties will fight such simple, but contrarian, proposals with a united intensity. Their conservative interests coincide. They understand each other perfectly: patronage is the pool scooped by the winner of a general election. They take it in turns to look after the tribe.

We in the new Independent group are united in our passion to rescue rural Ireland and to abolish the party whip. We are united in our determination to allow all independent TDs elected under our flag to speak their minds in the Dail, to vote as they wish and to initiate private members' legislation that, at last, has a chance of passage. We will certainly engage with the political parties after an election to achieve our radical principles, but we plan to insist that all legislation, even budgets, can be negotiated on merit. We will have principles and priorities, not a programme for government. We will be able to vote in different directions, sometimes defeating legislation, often improving it. Yet there will be no need for instability: if our principles are implemented, we will support governments in votes of confidence. As a quid pro quo, legislation will be decided by the Dail, not by a secretive elite ramming it through the chamber with the whip in one hand and the guillotine in the other. Issues such as the obstacles to women fulfilling their potential, such as disability, such as the old and the vulnerable, will be addressed on their merits, not dictated by party bosses. Accountability will be sacrosanct. New measures will be essential to downsize the rich and the powerful. The consensus among all political parties that the power brokers, bureaucrats and bankers of Europe are in charge of Ireland will be challenged.

Sceptics, aware of the obvious different political backgrounds of some of the independent TDs behind this project, happily cling to the doctrine of the conservative. They scoff at any new endeavours, especially a group that they cannot pigeonhole in the Left or Right corner. How, they ask, can John Halligan and Finian McGrath combine with free marketeers? They miss the point: united on some issues, but, where they disagree, all the TDs from this group will be free to part company. Critics completely ignore the uncomfortable reality that down in the humble county councils of Ireland, independents of many hues are cooperating on numerous issues to achieve progress. They have formed groups to implement measures in the interests of the smaller communities which they serve. They have forced political parties to introduce reforms in exchange for support elsewhere. Sometimes they vote together, sometimes they don't. The councils do not collapse. Nor will governments.

Contrary to speculation, we are not in a hurry. Yesterday's astonishing meeting was not a launch but the start of an adventure into the political unknown. It was a beginning of something exciting, something unique, something that has never been done before in Ireland. We have established a vehicle for standing independent candidates, dedicated to root-and-branch reform in Ireland. Like Frank Vanderlip, we will spill the beans on the bankers, we will afflict the insiders, we will create more powerful, not emasculated, Public Accounts Committees. And we take to heart Frank Vanderlip's definition of a conservative. We are going to force the conservative forces in Ireland to "adopt something new for the first time".

Shane Ross is the Independent TD for Dublin South

Sunday Independent