Mixed reaction for resignation from banking inquiry of a different type of politician

Unknown before his election, Stephen Donnelly has built up a strong national profile

Stephen Donnelly: His decision to resign from banking inquiry was variously described as “brave” and “precious”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Stephen Donnelly: His decision to resign from banking inquiry was variously described as “brave” and “precious”. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Mon, Jun 16, 2014, 01:00

There are three types of politician in Ireland. There is the bottom-rung-up operator who slowly works their way up the ranks, joining a party, serving in the council, then standing for national politics.

Then there is the politician who has already had a successful career outside politics that gave them a recognisability factor – think of a doctor like James Reilly, or a former GAA manager like John O’Mahony, or “I’m seldom out of the public eye” types like Shane Ross or Mick Wallace.

And the third type just arrive out of nowhere. They are zeitgeist politicians and Stephen Donnelly is among them.

Donnelly is certainly not modest, nor does he shy away from publicity. But he arrived into the Dáil in 2011 with almost zero national profile and a challenging job to ensure people in Wicklow knew who he was.

Donnelly (39) was working as a management consultant in 2010 when Ireland entered a bailout programme and would be rescued by the IMF. According to his own account, Donnelly was a top-class hurler on the ditch. But at that moment, he decided that he could no longer sit on the sidelines. He won the fifth seat in Wicklow, edging out Sinn Féin’s John Brady by just over 100 votes.

The Greystones-based TD has consolidated since then and is very likely to retain his seat in the next election, based on his skills as a communicator, his knowledge of finance and economics, some original thinking on policy and legislation, as well as his reputation as a constant critic of Coalition policies on the banking crisis and banking.

He is seen as one of few members of the technical group that is centre or right- of-centre. Banking and the Government’s promises on bondholders and banking debt have been his central themes. He has had an impact, especially since starting a regular column for the Sunday Independent. Government figures sometimes portray his criticisms as populist.

Donnelly has been a recruitment target for some parties. However, it’s unlikely he will forgo his independent status in the short-term.

There was mixed reaction this weekend to his decision to drop out of the banking inquiry. Some portrayed it as admirable and principled. But Government-side figures did not see it that way. Leo Varadkar said yesterday the raison d’être for Donnelly as a TD was to highlight what went wrong with Irish banking and now he was removing himself from the central public inquiry.

Alan Dukes described his decision as “precious”.

That said, others (mainly from Opposition parties) said it was brave, as its work will give a very high profile.