Political parties play crucial role
Sir, – Hugh Sheehy (Letters, July 13th) questions whether we need political parties. Parties are the means by which national governing policies are developed and communicated to the voting public prior to elections, and by which the electorate can have some faith that those manifestos will be pursued in office.
Independents do not have the breadth or depth of resources to formulate policies that address the very broad range of issues a national government must manage. They are, by their nature, confined to addressing niche or local issues. Co-ordinating the narrow interests of a large number of independents in sufficient numbers and with sufficient stability to form a government without the inclusion of political parties would be impossible.
In national politics, Independents thus have little place, now or in the future, other than allowing voters to deliver an occasional shot across the bows of the leading parties. This reality appears to be landing with voters, with the number of Independents and members of very small parties elected reduced significantly in the 2020 election.
As was well reported, first preferences received by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael slipped by a combined 6.7 per cent in 2020, with a 4.4 per cent increase going to the Greens. Sinn Féin’s share of the first-preference vote increased by 10.7per cent, drawing significant numbers of voters from Independents (down 3.8 per cent) and from minor parties, such as Social Democrats, Aontú, Solidarity/People Before Profit, and Labour (down a combined 4.6per cent). Despite claims of an electoral earthquake only around 2.3 per cent (roughly one in 50) of votes appeared to move from the three centre parties to Sinn Féin. A much more prominent trend was the consolidation of opposition votes around a single party (Sinn Féin) rather than the previous raggle-taggle band of Independents and minor parties.
That Independent presence will continue in the Dáil is ensured by Ireland’s unusual single-transferable vote purporting representation electoral system and parochial constituency boundaries. Occasionally one or two will be able to use their position to beneficial effect for their constituents, However, without stable, organised parties, democratic government cannot function effectively. If voters really want representation, that best answer is for them to join a party, to engage in the formulation of party policies, to participate in the selection of local candidates and to support the candidates in their campaigns for election. – Yours, etc,