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Curse of the coalition: Independents who worked with Fine Gael are purged

Kevin Doyle


Shane Ross lingers behind Katie Taylor as she returns home to Dublin Airport. Photo: Frank McGrath

Shane Ross lingers behind Katie Taylor as she returns home to Dublin Airport. Photo: Frank McGrath

Shane Ross lingers behind Katie Taylor as she returns home to Dublin Airport. Photo: Frank McGrath

Politics is a brutal bloodsport where pragmatism is rarely rewarded - just ask the Independents who took part in the outgoing government.

Five of the six non-party TDs who took a leap of faith by going in with Fine Gael in 2016 will not be returning to the next Dáil.

The only survivor is Galway East's Sean Canney, who could easily be described as the most anonymous of the motley crew.

When Enda Kenny was struggling to pull a government together after the last election, he turned to the 19 independents who had been elected. He rather condescendingly told them they needed to stand up to the task and put the country first.

The vast majority of them entered talks about what they could get for their constituencies in return for their support.

Right up until the end of the last Dáil, Mattie McGrath regularly shouted about the bits he got put into the Programme for Government - but he did so from the Opposition benches.

At one point, Michael Healy-Rae looked on course to be minister for rural affairs.

Roscommon's Michael Fitzmaurice fretted until the last moment and made a decision to opt out only as he headed into the Dáil for the big vote.

The half-dozen who did a deal were rewarded with ministries and lavish announcements for their local areas - but their period in power has come at a cost.

Being in coalition has probably ended the political careers of Shane Ross, Katherine Zappone, Finian McGrath and John Halligan.

Outgoing OPW Minister Kevin 'Boxer' Moran has also fallen out of favour with his electorate - although I wouldn't rule him out of another run in the future.

In many ways, Ross's expulsion was predictable. The good people of Dublin Rathdown are ruthless when it comes to their former poll toppers.

The journalist was elected on a promise of holding bankers and political cronies to account for the economic crash. But perhaps his stand-out commitment was to get Stepaside garda station reopened.

The station is ready for service again but gardaí seem to be in no rush to move in.

But his time in the Department of Transport and Sport will be remembered primarily for controversy. From his "Shell shock here in Rio" tweet after ex-OCI chief Pat Hickey was arrested to his photo-bombing of Katie Taylor, Ross was regularly a figure of ridicule.

He bailed out the FAI during the election campaign - but it wasn't enough and he lost his seat to Fine Gael's Neale Richmond.

Katherine Zappone had a very different approach to government, working behind the scenes to extract money for her department.

In the four years, she managed to increase government spending on childcare by €500m to €1.6bn.

Childcare costs were a major issue in the build-up to the election - but arguably Zappone was the minister to actually take on the issue.

She was a key figure in the referendum on Repeal of the Eighth too. Yet it wasn't enough to overcome the 'curse of the coalition'.

Disability Minister Finian McGrath really enjoyed his time as a 'super junior' and decided to go out on a high.

His Dublin Bay North constituency is routinely referred to as the 'group of death' so he may well have made the correct choice.

Likewise John Halligan, who infamously wanted to try to broker peace in Korea, decided the only way was down and didn't seek re-election.

Having won a coin toss, Canney served as OPW minister from May 2016 until June 2017 before handing the seal of office over to 'Boxer' Moran.

Amid much angst over not getting the job back a year later, he left the Independent Alliance - but events saw him return in October 2018 as Minster of State for Community Development, Natural Resources and Digital Development.

His second coming was facilitated by the sudden resignation of Denis Naughten, who was accused by Fianna Fáil of compromising the National Broadband Plan.

Micheál Martin or Mary Lou McDonald could now be turning to the re-elected Naughten as a 'reliable Independent' for a new government.

Mattie McGrath, the Healy-Raes, Michael Fitzmaurice and the majority of Independents who declined to sign on the dotted line in 2016 will also be back in Leinster House this month. It seems TDs are much more likely to be held to account if they actually try to do something.

Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald says the two party system is now "officially broken" as she chaired a meeting of the party's national executive committee and continued to bask in a remarkable General Election result. Despite receiving the most first preference votes, Sinn Fein's place in the next government is not guaranteed. The party failed to run enough candidates to capitalise on its surging popularity in Ireland, so it will not finish up with the most seats.

Irish Independent