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Not-quite-Independents are emerging as the new political force

One startling fact: the number of Independents elected to the Dáil in recent years has exceeded the combined number elected to all other EU member state parliaments

In case you imagined that we have only a handful of political parties, well, the news is we have 29. Yep, 29. All legally registered with the Electoral Commission.

And yet the public nose is moving inexorably towards what we’ll loosely call “Independents”. Loosely because they style themselves Independents, touting their freedom to speak fearlessly for the plain people while at the same time busily corralling themselves under the security blanket of “groups”, often with a manifesto, in a handy format formerly known as “political parties”.

This is not to begrudge them the security. My father was an Independent TD for decades and although there was a lot of fun, anarchy and life-shaping awareness raised by those old-time, pre-social media campaigns, the fundraising-dance energy required to raise a fraction of the party machines’ resources piques no nostalgia even at this distance.

Now there are technical groups – loose groupings mainly of like-minded TDs – that serve the vital purpose of extending Oireachtas speaking rights to elected representatives who might otherwise be excluded.


The speaking rights are clearly important since some 40 per cent of governments have turned to Independents for support over the years while party loyalty continues to decline. We’re EU outliers in that respect. The number of Independents elected to the Dáil in recent years has exceeded the combined number elected to all other EU member state parliaments (credit to the encyclopedic Politics in the Republic of Ireland for this startling information).

In 2016, for the first time in 68 years, Independents operating under the Independent Alliance (IA) banner – a non-registered grouping founded by Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice that regarded the party whip as “a regressive force in Irish politics” – were brought into Cabinet. Fitzmaurice left within a few months and IA was defunct within a few years but it proved a point.

This time round, Independent Ireland of which Fitzmaurice is a marquee name, is a registered party complete with a manifesto – rooted in “common sense”, according to numerous party statements – and government ambitions. It’s a fair bet that party cofounder Michael Collins’s full-throated views on immigrants and castrating rapists will give former RTÉ correspondent, Ciaran Mullooly, much to ponder on the hustings when confronted about shared values. The same answer will come forth: people differ and it’s all about the manifesto.

And yet there’s a sense of cakeism about it all. Whatever happened to the old-fashioned idea of being Independent without the umbrella?

The Irish People, a party registered in 2023 with apocalyptic visions about “fulfilling our historical role in saving European civilisation as Irish Monks did during the last dark age”, is upfront about using “a common brand . . . to increase [candidates’] electoral chances”, while “members are encouraged to act, speak, and vote according to their own convictions once elected”. On a scale of one to 10, how likely is such a party to hang tight in any government coalition?

But that would be to overlook the other advantages of registering a party. For candidates it takes the cost and angst of having to register yourself and pay a deposit. For the party, there’s the highly attractive if relatively unspoken bonus of the annual State-funded parliamentary activities allowances.

Independents 4 Change (I4C) is a template of what can be achieved when a few Independents of roughly similar values perceive the benefits of being inside and outside a party simultaneously, in terms of profile and costs. Founded by Mick Wallace as the Independents for Equality Movement, it morphed into a registered party in 2015 as Independents 4 Change and after the 2016 general election returned four sitting TDs – Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Tommy Broughan and Wallace – under the banner. The four aligned with Thomas Pringle, Catherine Connolly and Maureen O’Sullivan to form the number for a technical group with speaking rights and some made admirable and energetic use of their time for a few years.

Since then it’s been hard to keep track of who or what I4C comprises any more, though the State-funded parliamentary activities allowances to which they’re entitled have continued to flow. Daly and Wallace were elected to the European Parliament under the brand in 2019. Broughan and O’Sullivan retired while Collins, re-elected in 2020, left to form the Right to Change party. But I4C remains on the party register and Daly remains its chair while she and Wallace are the two trustees. The executive committee includes the other elected Oireachtas member, Senator Eileen Flynn, who is also part of a Seanad technical group, the Civil Engagement Group. The I4C party had no employees in either 2021 or 2022, according to its returns and Pringle, its parliamentary leader and treasurer, runs the entity from his office in Leinster House. He also becamethe appropriate officer for accounts purposes in 2022.

I4C created a new template for future groups of Independents. But it does leave voters with some questions – such as what is a political party, and what is an Independent any more? And when a candidate knocks on the door and the routine question comes about whether the aspirant is in a political party with all that entails, can they expect a straight answer?