Making a government: What’s in it for the Independents?
TDs pledge national interest in talks while seizing their chance for local gain
“As the efforts to form a minority government reach a conclusion, the thoughts of Independents are naturally turning to finalising the best deals they can get.” File photograph: Getty Images
Over the past few interminable weeks, Independent TDs have solemnly intoned that their talks about Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were solely focused on national issues, and certainly not conducted for their constituents’ benefit.
One, just minutes after making such a statement on the national airwaves, was privately asked if constituency deals were strictly verboten. “No,” came the immediate reply.
Partnership governments, minority governments and new politics are well and good, but pork barrel is better.
“Sure that’s how every TD is re-elected,” said one Independent, while declining to disclose what he is actually looking for. “How are we different from any other TD?”
As the efforts to form a minority government reach a conclusion, the thoughts of Independents are naturally turning to finalising the best deals they can get.
Fine Gael Ministers have been pressuring the 15 Independents in play, asking what more they need to push them to declare their support for Enda Kenny. A message that those who declare first have a better chance of being appointed to Cabinet is also being spread.
The Independents’ local concerns are cloaked in the national, but that is not to deny they are genuine issues.
Concerns about the health services mean Finian McGrath is pushing for a new cystic fibrosis unit in Beaumont Hospital in his constituency, as well as a minister with responsibility for the disability sector. Of course, McGrath, a long-time disability campaigner, would see himself as an ideal fit for such a job.
Shane Ross has raised the closure of Garda stations, not unrelated to his campaign to reopen Stepaside station.
Longford-Westmeath’s Kevin “Boxer” Moran wants to secure the future of Custume Barracks in Athlone. Galway East’s Seán Canney has issues about A&E in Galway.
Cork South-West’s Michael Collins, of the so-called “Rural Alliance” of five TDs, has issues regarding Leader programmes and fishing laws – national issues of local importance. “The big issue is the small issue,” said one source. “Everyone has their big national issue but it’s really about their own issue.”
If both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had an equal number of seats, Micheál Martin would be taoiseach in an instant. But the numbers are against him.
Of the 15 Independents, Katherine Zappone, Michael Fitzmaurice, Canney, Moran, Denis Naughten, a former Fine Gael TD, and Michael Harty are believed to be leaning towards Fine Gael. Maureen O’Sullivan has been keeping coy in recent days.
McGrath and Ross would vote for Martin if they could, but are open to deal and conscious that the numbers favour Kenny. Halligan is extremely uncomfortable with the idea of voting for Fine Gael.
Collins, Noel Grealish and Mattie McGrath are understood to favour Fianna Fáil. There is, however, annoyance among some that Martin has not shown enough desire to be in government.
The two Healy-Raes are undecided, although Danny is said to have warned Michael against voting for Fine Gael.
Wilder Leinster House rumours speculate that one Healy-Rae could vote for Kenny and one for Martin, to keep the family options open – but this is dismissed. Some of the Independents see themselves as opposition politicians and will opt out of government, no matter what.
The coherence of the Independents will also come into question and Harty has already indicated the Rural Alliance may split.
The Independent Alliance insists it will maintain a united front. “There is a sense that you can get in there and shape policy,” said one Alliance figure, while another said the group, established almost 18 months ago, wants to maintain its coherence now.
Many believe Naughten, Ross, Fitzmaurice, McGrath and Michael Healy-Rae have ministerial ambitions.
Fine Gael, if successful in forming a minority government, will have to maintain coherence among such a disparate group although the party is likely to reach across the aisle, and not just to Fianna Fáil, for support on certain votes.
Whoever Independents back, projects for the constituency will provide political cover. One Independent said: “I need to be able to walk into the pub and say to the fella who gives me grief for voting for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael: ‘Yeah, I did – but I did it to get this, this and this.’”