North Korean farce tops bad week for Independent Alliance
Politicians likely to operate within their political limits in future
Everyday life in Government has proved difficult at times for the Independent Alliance and the past week, particularly the suggestion of a peace mission to North Korea, damaged and exposed the dividing line in the group. Photograph Nick Bradshaw
There have been rows about constituency projects and controversial policy positions, but the past week has done the most damage to the Independent Alliance since its uncertain beginnings back in 2015.
It was a prescient move by Shane Ross, Finian McGrath and John Halligan, all TDs in the last Dáil, to establish a bloc that would strengthen their hands in bargaining over the formation of a government.
Its other two TDs – Seán Canney and Kevin “Boxer” Moran – were councillors who stood under the Alliance umbrella and made it to Leinster House.
The group was successful in its mission, securing one senior, one super junior, and two junior ministries – although one would be effectively be a job share between Canney and Moran - in the Fine Gael-led minority Government.
Everyday life in Government has proved difficult at times, however, and the past week, particularly the suggestion of a peace mission to North Korea, damaged and exposed the dividing line in the group.
Halligan, Ross and McGrath have enjoyed a close bond since the Alliance’s formation, and perhaps loyalty to the Waterford TD can partially explain his colleague’s strong support for the now doomed North Korean jaunt.
But Canney and Moran are cut from a different cloth. Both are rural politicians from a Fianna Fáil background who want to quietly work away at their constituencies and their areas of ministerial responsibility.
Both were acutely aware of the damage the North Korean affair, in particular, was doing to the Alliance. It was at once ridiculous, hilarious and undermining of the Government’s foreign affairs policy.
Not serious politicians
It entertained the nation but reinforced in the electorate’s mind the first attack of the Alliance’s opponents: that they are not serious politicians and are unsuited to power.
Halligan’s troubles at the Workplace Relations Commission only reinforced the point. Other factors are at play, too.
Moran has never forgotten the fact that Halligan, in the throes of controversy over his cherished second catherisation lab at University Hospital, Waterford, called him an “idiot”.
With Halligan in Thailand on Government business, the other four members of the group held a meeting yesterday, with no advisers in the room, to settle a number of issues.
It is now likely they will focus on their own areas for the foreseeable future and operate within their political limits. Most are savvy political operators, albeit in different ways.
Canney and Moran major on issues such as flood defences and rural development and the gregarious McGrath has carried a career-long dedication to disability issues and health services into office.
Ross made his political career from being an excellent communicator and guided the group towards government, leading to a Cabinet position for himself. But he needs to be bolder in action as Minister for Transport, rather than forever afraid of perceived pitfalls and political traps.
The Alliance likes to emphasise that it is not a political party and does not abide by a party’s structures and habits. The past week has shown it should heed its own message, and operate as a loose confederation of individuals with different interests, working quietly and below the radar.