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Andrew Lynch: Rise of Independents has sting in the tail - the risk of ungovernable chaos


Clare daly and Mick Wallace

Clare daly and Mick Wallace

Clare daly and Mick Wallace

"Voters are going to want that new car smell."

This was President Barack Obama's intriguing reply to a recent question about who might succeed him as US president in 2016.

Now it seems that Irish people may also be looking for a fresh political scent because the current alternatives only make them want to hold their noses.

A new Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll shows just how much the Leinster House landscape has changed. Fine Gael and Labour are both in freefall (down to 19pc and 6pc) but their support is not transferring in big numbers to either Sinn Fein (22pc) or Fianna Fail (21pc).

Instead, the Independents have surged nine points to a record high of 32pc - a massive vote of no confidence in the establishment parties and one that could have frightening implications for the future.

As recently as 2007, the Dail contained just five Independent TDs. If this poll translates into reality at the next election, we will soon be looking at ten times that number.


They would almost certainly hold the balance of power and nobody could be elected Taoiseach without begging for their support.

As a result, Ireland is in real danger of becoming completely ungovernable. Just look at the current crop of Independents, who are more mixed up than a Christmas-size tin of Quality Street.

These mavericks may have added plenty of colour, noise and controversy to the Dail - but the one thing they can certainly never provide is a government.

On the Independent benches today, Marxist revolutionaries such as Paul Murphy rub shoulders with capitalist reformers such as Shane Ross.

There are also disillusioned ex-Fine Gaelers led by Lucinda Creighton, parish-pump operators including Michael Healy-Rae and the complete joke that is Mick Wallace.

These people often have difficulty in agreeing whose turn it is to speak so it is hard to imagine them putting together a common tax policy.

In other words, a general election that delivered 50 Independent TDs could mean only one thing. Another general election, within six months at the very most.

Ancient mapmakers used to write "Here be monsters" when they had reached the limits of their knowledge and that is also a pretty good warning of what to expect if Irish politics carries on drifting into these unchartered waters.

Of course, this poll is also good news for two TDs who have been dropping hints about forming a new political movement.

After years of speculation, it now seems highly likely that both Shane Ross and Lucinda Creighton will launch their own centre-right alternatives to the mainstream parties in early 2015.

Clearly, there is a huge gap in the market for something fresh but it remains to be seen if either Ross or Creighton has the star power to break the mould, just as Des O'Malley's PDs did in the 1980s.

If nothing else, the poll should dampen down any speculation about a snap general election in 2015.


For Enda Kenny, going to the country on these figures would be like a turkey looking forward to December 25.

He and Joan Burton will carry on regardless, desperately hoping that an economic recovery will generate some kind of feelgood factor before their five years are up in 2016.

The real fear in Government Buildings is that it may already be too late.

In recent weeks they have tried to woo voters with a giveaway budget, a drastically reduced water charges package and a host of promises on everything from medical cards to social housing.

None of this seems to cut any ice with an electorate that has apparently given up on Kenny's leadership - but doesn't see much of an alternative from Micheal Martin or Gerry Adams.

Just like Barack Obama, this Government lost its new car smell a long time ago. It's little wonder that many voters want to trade it in.

Giving the Independents a spin instead, however, carries with it one major risk - nobody can be sure who exactly would end up behind the wheel.