by Frank Schnittger
Tue Jun 17th, 2014 at 12:17:47 PM EST
Stephen Donnelly is one of five TD's (Members of Parliament) elected in my local constituency of Wicklow. He is the sole Independent elected together with 3 Fine Gael and one Labour TD. Remarkably neither Fianna Fail nor Sinn Fein won a seat, so he is the only opposition member from the constituency.
Since his election he has shown a wide range of competence on economic and social issues challenging the Government's austerity policies and representing an articulate voice for alternative policies. Recently the Government screwed up and failed to secure a majority on the long delayed banking inquiry Dail Committee. To rectify this situation, the Government later appointed two additional members. Stephen resigned in protest.
Whilst he had an arguable case, I think, on balance, he made a mistake. All Dail Committees are voted in by the Dail, and there is no constitutional bar to the Government holding a second vote if it manages to lose the first one. Sure, the committee might have been seen as being more genuinely independent had it not had a Government majority, but at the end of the day all committee findings have to be approved and acted on by the governing Dail Majority.
Now, without Stephen Donnelly, the Committee will have a lot less credibility and impact. I don't think the short term gain of embarrassing the Government outweighs that loss. Stephen has also said he is thinking of joining a political party in order to gain more influence and power in politics. I think that would be a major mistake at a time when Independents are gaining an ever greater share of the vote. Hence my letter to Stephen below:
While I am sure you gave your decision to step down from the inquiry a lot of thought, I'm not sure you came to the right conclusion, Stephen. A lot of people were looking to you as one of the few people in the Dail competent enough to ask all the right questions and ensure its independence.
Sure the Government screwed up and failed to secure a majority on the committee as is normal practice. The Opposition pulled a fast one and deserve to get some props for that. But laughing at the Government for getting egg on its face and claiming that there is some moral reason why the Governing parties shouldn't have a majority are two different things. FG/Lab have a large majority in the Dail and it is fair that should be reflected on key committees. Giving FF a larger say and reducing the level of expertise on the committee only makes it more likely that the inquiry will have little lasting value.
Some people will put 2 &2 together and conclude that you didn't want to embarrass FF at a time when you are said to be thinking about joining them. Be carefully about that. Independents are getting an ever larger share of the vote because people are getting more and more disillusioned about the whole party system. You could lose a lot of votes from people who valued you as an independent voice.
If you want to get a seat at the Government table you are probably better off forming an alliance of independent TD's who, whilst they won't constitute a full political party, will nevertheless have collective bargaining power when it comes to the allocation of Cabinet seats. The Times they are a-Changing - you have to think of new and more creative ways of wielding influence and power than just reverting to becoming a party apparatchik. People now value personal integrity over party loyalty.
Think about it.