Sunday 20 January 2019

Shane Ross: Tribal politics on the run from wave of radical independents

A Fianna Fail diehard stopped me at the petrol pump in Rathfarnham. He whispered his confession: "My father, God rest him, would turn in his grave. We have always been Fianna Fail, but not this time. My family will do something we never imagined possible. We will not be voting for Micheal Martin and his crew."

The same message emerges in Knocklyon, Dundrum, Stillorgan and Ballinteer.

It is not just the semi-detached younger generation that is spurning the old political tribe. Lifelong Fianna Fail supporters feel betrayed. They are coyly confessing their conversions on the doorsteps.

Civil-war politics is on the run. One tribe is being routed. The question to be answered on polling day is whether it will simply be replaced by the other.

Or is this really a breakthrough election? As Fianna Fail and Labour stumble in the polls, Independent candidates' canvassers are prompting a sudden curiosity.

Independents have taken centre stage. Even the old tribal chieftains are giving us unaccustomed attention.

Over-enthusiastic opponents tore down our posters in Goatstown. One or two rivals launched the odd verbal attack on us. In our camp, we believe that they are rattled. With one week to go, the voters are constantly asking what Independents could do if elected.

Specifically, they asked me if I and others would help Enda Kenny to make up the numbers to form a government?

The reply is simple. We will happily talk. Independents will demand epoch-shaking policy upheavals before giving support to any party. No, not a job, not a pork barrel political demand, but a host of changes in the national interest. Politics must change unrecognisably. I add that I will form an alliance with like-minded Independents with a shopping list of radical reforms.

We will rattle the cages of Ireland's political prison.

Demands include an end to cronyism with specific proposals, a people's referendum on the awful EU/ IMF deal followed by renegotiation -- and radical Dail reform, transforming TDs into national legislators, not parish pump messenger boys. Some voters respond that parliamentary reforms are already included in the platforms of rivals, but concede that the Dail needs watchdogs to ensure they are implemented once polling day is over.

The voters are well-informed but deeply stressed. They want to talk about their children and their future. This week -- as the campaign moved beyond half way -- they are complaining about the lack of canvassers. Far from slamming doors in faces, they are waiting to ambush canvassers, but the prey is not appearing.

Where, they ask, are the former armies from the political parties? Do they not have the footsoldiers?


Serious political issues are peppered with lighter incidents.

At the doors many are far happier to greet my wife, Ruth Buchanan, and decry her departure from RTE's Playback programme than they are to see her spouse seeking votes.

Eamon Dunphy causes a mighty stir when he arrives to canvass for us and to court the maidens of Dublin South on Valentine's Day. They respond with kisses, enthusiasm and promises.

Others are merciless teasers. In Mount Merrion, three people appear at the door. After detaining me in discussion for 15 minutes, they delightedly reveal that the husband is a property developer, the wife a banker and the daughter works for FAS. No votes there! Sweet revenge from a trio from my least-favoured professions.

Another asks if I will give up writing newspaper columns. He urges me to continue, mischievously suggesting that if elected to the Dail I will have far more time to write.

The campaign is dominated by the swing towards Fine Gael and the political consequences not only for Independents but for their former favoured coalition partners.

The Labour Party's hidden fear of being sidelined in the post-government horse trading surfaces. Could the Mercs and perks be slipping from the old socialists' grasp for the fourth election in a row?

Many hardened comrades see this contest as their last chance for glory.

Their old Siptu ally, the bearded Jack O'Connor, did Labour no favours when he savaged Fine Gael and sought votes for Labour.

He probably added a couple of percent to the blueshirt tally. Gilmore must have been apoplectic at Jack's unhelpful intervention. It is most politicians' dream to be assaulted by the whiskered wonder.

Please Jack, include me in your next diatribe.

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