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Political analysis: Independents resist luxury of opinion

Questions linger on Independents staying the course, with most doubts on John Halligan

One Fine Gael source said there may be a difference on what John Halligan believes he got for his Waterford constituency and what the party sees as its commitment to him. Photograph: The Irish Times

The Opposition deputy was surprised to see a number of missed calls and text messages on his phone from a Government TD.

The Government TD, from the ranks of the Independents now in Coalition with Fine Gael, was asking the Opposition TD, who shall remain nameless, to ease off on the criticism a while and give him some political space in Government.

Bounty was coming to the constituency, the Independent hinted, and he would ensure his Opposition counterpart was in place for all the inevitable photocalls and ribbon cutting ceremonies.

The Opposition deputy, needless to say, was not in a charitable mood.


Responsibility of power

The above conversation, which took place in the past few days, offers a glimpse of how Independents who have entered Government are coping with the move from being natural Opposition politicians to having the responsibility of power.

Another example is Minister of State John Halligan’s dalliance with voting for a Sinn Féin motion on abolishing water charges and Irish Water, a notion which took the Waterford deputy for a few hours before he said he would support a government counter-motion on the issue.

The remarkable thing about Halligan’s statement this week, however, was that he said he could vote with Sinn Féin but was unclear if its motion clashed with the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil deal and the Programme for Government.

Halligan, in effect, offered an opinion before weighing up the consequence of what he said, a luxury that is available in Opposition but not in Government.

Doubt cast

There are lingering questions over whether the Independents will stick the course, with most doubt cast on Halligan.

One senior Fine Gael source indicated there may be a difference on what Halligan believes he got for his Waterford constituency and what the party sees as its commitment to him, on issues such as hospital and airport runways.

There is also the question of the freedom the Independents have within Government. Those who have fully signed up to the Programme for Government largely come from the ranks of the Independent Alliance.

Four of the five Independent Alliance members now have ministerial posts with the fifth, Kevin “Boxer” Moran, due to take up the junior ministerial post now held by his colleague Seán Canney within one year.

The Programme for Government says all office holders will be bound on the approach of Cabinet to private members’ motions.

It is a major difference from pre-election statements on whips and just one of many changes Independents in Government have to get used to.