If Shane's Alliance won't accept high office, then who will?
The Alliance initiated by Shane Ross could force a minority government upon us, writes Willie Kealy
It sounds like a good plan - in theory.
Shane Ross outlined his vision for his new political alliance on Prime Time on Tuesday night. And the list of people reported to be joining him so far is impressive: Stephen Donnelly, Michael Fitzmaurice, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Noel Grealish, Tom Fleming, John Halligan, Liam Naughton, who might have been thought of as a likely candidate for Lucinda Creighton's new party, plus a few other possible defectors from the existing parties.
He has a lot of spade work done and so has Michael Fitzmaurice and now they have come together, what will they do?
Despite the fact that Shane Ross referred to his alliance as "the party," this was more than likely a slip of the tongue, and maybe not even a Freudian slip at that.
And he was very clear that he was not the leader of anything.
There would be core principles they would all agree on - we don't yet know what they are - but after that each deputy can vote as they please.
The vision expressed by Shane Ross was to reverse the arguably unconstitutional position where the Cabinet is no longer accountable to the Dail. Cabinet decides and whipped-in members of government parties rubber stamp or are expelled. Ross sees a situation where the independent deputies might be "supporting the government and voting as they wish - that would be the sort of freedom which will take power out of the Cabinet into the TDs' hands and therefore transfer it to the people, that's something revolutionary."
The whip system is the great evil as Ross sees it. His solution is to field a raft of independent candidates under a common banner. And the way the polls are showing at present, they would probably come back as the largest grouping in the Dail. But here's where it gets tricky - in practice. Shane Ross reckons they could achieve their objectives better by refusing to be part of any cabinet. He says: "Being in cabinet tends to make you an insider, it tends to make you part of a cabal, it tends to compromise you. I don't think it's necessarily essential for members of our group, even if we control some of the principles being implemented, to have seats in cabinet."
The problem with this is that somebody has to form a government. So who will it be?
Traditionally, it would fall to Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour (all of whom say they would not coalesce with Sinn Fein) in some combination. But again the polls are indicating that these three parties together would not have sufficient seats to form a government.
But the Shane Ross Alliance will not be stepping up to the mark with or without Sinn Fein. So unless one election is to be quickly followed by another, some combination of the major parties will have to form a government. But they will be a minority government and they will exist only with the support of the Shane Ross Alliance. And each member of that group will be free to vote on every issue - outside of some core principles - as he or she thinks fit.
It would, in effect, be a puppet government, but with a lot of different people pulling different strings.
The only other stricture there appears to be on the Shane Ross Alliance deputies is that they would not be allowed to do individual deals with the government to get advantage for their own constituencies in return for a guarantee of their support. Ross says: "The idea that there would be independents, individuals, demanding particular favours for themselves or their constituency is out as far as I'm concerned."
But what about secret deals? Who's to know? Human nature does not seem to be factored in here.
Nor does it appear to be in the DNA of Shane Ross's suggestion that his group of Independents would not deign to enter cabinet. Does he speak for them all there? Is he sure that Stephen Donnelly or Michael Fitzmaurice, for example, might not quite like to get their hands on the levers of power.
In fairness, the Shane Ross Alliance is still at the embryonic stage and some of all this may yet be clarified as we get nearer to a general election. And like any other party - FG, FF, Labour, SF or Lucinda's new outfit - its manifesto is based on holding power.
But unlike the other parties, this is not the power that comes with being elected to Government. This is the power to hold a probably-minority government of others to account from the backbenches. This power would be limited to a veto. The Alliance could vote down any government proposal they did not favour. But from outside government, its members could not actually initiate anything. How many Independent deputies would be happy with that sterile role?
How many of them would be content to accept power without responsibility, that prerogative of the harlot through the ages.