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Letter to my local Member of Parliament.

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.

Has Sinn Féin saved the Government's bacon? - Political News | Irish & International Politics | The Irish Times - Wed, Jun 18, 2014

Incidentally, there are mixed views in Leinster House as to the wisdom of Mr Donnelly's move.

Some believe he allowed himself to be backed into a corner and left himself with no choice but to resign. Others think he made the right call.

He was clearly offended by the Government's handling of the issue, which his replacement Socialist TD Joe Higgins agreed was "crude and hamfisted".

But Mr Higgins also pointed out that nothing has fundamentally changed. All parties understood the Government was always going to use its Dáil majority to have a majority on the committee, he said.

Sinn Féin remaining part of the cross-party initiative means it will definitely proceed. After the shambolic events of recent days, that can be seen as a small boost for a Government which has been busy mining a lucrative seam of bad luck.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 18th, 2014 at 09:36:24 AM EST
It's a reasonable set of views, but if the world of Irish politics is becoming more friendly to independents, it's taking its time about making it count.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jun 18th, 2014 at 04:36:39 PM EST
They are a disparate group, but will probably old the balance of power after the next general election, hence increased leverage

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jun 18th, 2014 at 06:46:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But do the independents have coherent views or are they all pulling in different directions?

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Thu Jun 19th, 2014 at 01:21:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's why I said disparate... See composition of Dail. Some are members of small left wing parties, so in that sense not really independents at all, but nevertheless forming part of a "technical group" to obtain increased speaking rights in the Dail.  Others are local populists elected on local issues - e.g hospital closure, or else elected because they had a good profile or because disillusioned FF voters couldn't bring themselves to vote for FG and vice versa.  Still more are ex members of a major party (mainly FG and Lab) who resigned on a point of principle (against the local impact of austerity, or the abortion legislation, but can't bring themselves to join another party.  In total they number 26 TD's, or almost 20% of the total Dail membership, an historic high, and the recent local/European, and bye elections indicated that the vote for independents is, if anything, still rising.

Stephen is an independent elected as an independent, and possibly quite well placed to  unite a few of the more "centrist" or populist independents or ex-party members looking for a home.  However forming a cohesive voting block - and thus gaining increased collective bargaining strength - could pose a problem, particularly if the negotiations weren't just about policy, but about Government positions as well. Which independent would get a cabinet position, and which none? In practice, some could probably be bought off with the offer of the inclusion of their pet projects into a future programme for Government, but I get the sense that Stephen fancies himself as a future cabinet Minister, and that would be a difficult ask unless he can promise more than just his own vote for the Government.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jun 20th, 2014 at 01:10:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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