A marriage of convenience
Independent TD Stephen Donnelly joins Fianna Fáil - a timely addition to party as it seeks to close gap with Fine Gael
The decision of Wicklow Independent TD Stephen Donnelly to join Fianna Fáil is a timely boost for the main Opposition party. In a Dáil where no party is anywhere near having a majority, an extra TD is a valuable addition bringing Fianna Fáil’s strength up to 45, just five seats less than Fine Gael.
Fianna Fáil has high hopes of overtaking Fine Gael at the next election and given that an election could happen at any time, the addition of at extra TD in could prove significant.
There is no guarantee, though, that the move will necessarily benefit either Fianna Fáil or Mr Donnelly. During the last Dáil, the defection of Galway East TD Colm Keaveney from the Labour Party to Fianna Fáil was initially seen as a good move but it ultimately proved a disappointment for both with Mr Keaveney losing his seat.
Mr Donnelly is a different proposition and has shown himself an impressive vote getter in Wicklow, topping the poll in the last election. He has taken the scenic route to becoming a Fianna Fáil TD. He was first elected as an Independent in 2011, adopting an anti-Government stance in the Dáil before helping to set up the Social Democrats in July 2015.
Mr Donnelly represented that party in one of the televised leader’s debates during the 2016 election and made a strong impression. Then last September he left the Social Democrats to resume political life as an Independent, citing differences with his parliamentary colleagues Róisín Shortall and Catherine Murphy.
He may find life more congenial in a bigger party like Fianna Fáil whose views he should find broadly compatible although there is no escaping the fact they are quite different from the left wing philosophy he espoused during his time as a Social Democrat TD.
As the Fianna Fáil spokesman on Brexit, he faces a serious challenge and will need to do more than engage in routine criticism of the Government if he is to demonstrate the capacity to become a senior Minister in a future Fianna Fáil led administration.