Independent Alliance: One for all and all for one – up to a point

Alliance TDs are standing behind Shane Ross as each has his own individual battle to win

 Independent Alliance members Seán Canney, Kevin “Boxer” Moran , Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Shane Ross. Photograph:  Nick Bradshaw

Independent Alliance members Seán Canney, Kevin “Boxer” Moran , Finian McGrath, John Halligan and Shane Ross. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

The Cabinet meeting had just concluded a few hours previously and the Independent Alliance had already marched to the Leinster House plinth to toast their latest success.

After weeks of fighting – with both Fine Gael and the judiciary – Minister for Transport Shane Ross had succeeded in getting Cabinet approval for his judicial appointments Bill.

When asked about Ross’s success on an issue many considered niche, one of the Alliance members rolled his eyes skyward in an indication that he, neither, could understand what all the fuss was about.

Yet there was an acknowledgement that the Alliance had to stand by Ross in his fight as there are other individual battles to be won with Fine Gael, when priorities and favours will need to be pushed through.

“It’s a matter of, if I have his back on this, he’ll have my back on mine,” said one Alliance source.

For Ross’s judicial appointments reform, see disability issues and Beaumont Hospital for Finian McGrath, the second catheterisation lab at Waterford Hospital for John Halligan, and flooding and other issues for Sean Canney and Kevin “Boxer” Moran.

‘All for one’

While many doubted the Alliance would maintain a united front as endgame and government approached, they largely held firm, aside from Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice stepping aside the morning of the Dáil vote to elect Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

“That ‘one for all and all for one’ still holds,” said a source, although it naturally has its limits in a group of sole traders.

The initial months in Government were rocky, pockmarked with controversies over a free Dáil vote on abortion, the Apple tax issue and the aforementioned Waterford Hospital.

There is a sense now, however, that the Alliance is getting used to its position, smoothed by the appointment of advisers such as Tony Williams and Catherine Halloran.

A weekly meeting on Tuesday afternoons sees Ross and McGrath brief the others on what took place at that day’s Cabinet meeting, and a general discussion follows.

Priorities

McGrath has impressed his Fine Gael colleagues with his application to his work as Minister of State in the Department of Justice and how he has adapted to life in Government. The Dublin Bay North deputy says he will stick by the Government as long as his policies are looked after.

Even Halligan, the Minister of State for Training and Skills, who threatened to destroy the Government on the Waterford Hospital issue, has become more laid-back, although he has been out of the country for a number of sensitive Dáil votes. It may be short-lived, however, since Waterford Hospital will again become an issue in the New Year.

The curious construct – largely a design of Ross and McGrath – has its own distinct groupings. McGrath and Ross are personal friends and are also professionally close, even though their politics can diverge sharply. Halligan is also close to McGrath and Ross. All three were in the last Dáil.

While Ross, the public face and nominal leader of the group, provokes an almost visceral dislike among some in Fine Gael, he still commands loyalty amongst his own.

“I’d be very loyal to Ross,” said Halligan. “He is a good friend of mine and he is a good guy.”

‘Lovebomb’

The relationship between the two new TDs and Kenny is stronger, perhaps because the Taoiseach views them as practical, rural politicians like himself.

Canney is currently Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works while Moran operates as group whip. They will reverse roles next May, and others in the group sometimes warily eye their relationship with Fine Gael, although it is stressed that both are wily enough to know Kenny could be trying to play them.

The body language between Kenny and the “cute” Canney is described as “warm” while Moran speaks regularly to the Taoiseach.

“From time to time, Boxer would say: ‘Well, I spoke to Enda about that,’” said one source, while another added: “Boxer likes it when Kenny tickles his belly.”

Naturally, Moran would not characterise it in such terms. “I have a good relationship with the Taoiseach,” he says. “There is no point in saying I don’t.”

The next high-profile battle on the Alliance’s agenda will be the pet project arguably more closely associated with Ross than judicial appointments: Stepaside Garda station.

Trial basis

If she decides to exclude Stepaside from the list of six, the consequent furore will make Halligan’s Waterford Hospital controversy seem like a picnic.

Such is the anticipation of the decision that Ross has pre-made leaflets, understood to include pictures of him in the surrounding housing estates welcoming the station’s re-opening, designed and ready to be distributed around the constituency at a moment’s notice.

The Alliance will toast Ross’s success if O’Sullivan bestows a Christmas gift and will join in the protest if she doesn’t. They will not, however, risk destabilising the Government over Ross’s local issue, nor follow him out the door were he to walk.

“One for all and all for one” will only go so far, particularly when each has their own projects to deliver.

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