If polls are to be believed, Independents stand to make serious gains in the 2016 election. Lots of candidates out there hoping to be the next Mick Wallace I guess. Kildare North has four of them in total, who I’ll go through alphabetically.
Michael Beirne is the operator of “Celbridge Tutorial College”, and ran unsuccessfully in the last local and general election. Gerard Dunne is an assistant supervisor on Kildare County Council, and apparently a member of the Labour party, who ran unsuccessfully in the last locals. Elizabeth O’Sullivan is a health care assistant and a first time candidate. Brendan Young is a councillor for Celbridge/Leixlip, first elected in 2014.
Beirne is a bit of an odd one. His Facebook campaign page contains a manifesto and some recent posts, that focus a lot of educational reform proposals, and proclaim Beirne himself to be a “true independent”, whatever that means. There’s some eye-raising points in his leaflets (see photos in the above link): reducing legal aid for “serious crime”, a proposed legal challenge to the ECB for violating Ireland’s national sovereignty (you know, by making a deal with its elected government), and, um, “no change in the Doctor’s role as protector of life”. That’s an intentionally vague pro-life statement if you were wondering. One of the Facebook posts namedrops “Brehon Law” as something to aspire to, in relation to abortions and foetal abnormalities. I wonder if Mr Beirne might be one of those who identify as a “Freeman of the land”…
I can’t really say much of anything for Gerard Dunne. At time of writing, he has no campaign website, just this Labour Party page, no campaign Facebook, just an underused personal account, and no Twitter. I can find no other presence for him online, no idea of policy or political beliefs, and no hint as to why a Labour member is running as an Independent. It wouldn’t be the first time I have seen someone with a grudge against their party suddenly decide to go it on their own– see Fine Gael’s Kevin Kiely in Limerick City in 2011 as a recent example – but I honestly have no idea.
Update 17/2/16: KFM has brief audio statements from most candidates up on their website, which includes a contribution from Dunne, so brief I’ll just transcribe it:
“I have decided to stand as an Independent, non-party, candidate, in the forthcoming general election. I am contesting the election following a request to do so from members of my community.’We want someone we can see’ they said. ‘We want someone we know, and we want someone we can trust.’ I have received great support and encouragement on the doorsteps of Naas. Is is said ‘All Politics Is Local’. I am local. I was born in Naas. I live in Naas. I work in Naas. I raised my family in Naas. I served on the last town council of Naas. And I believe Naas needs an Independent voice. So vote local, and vote Dunne. Thank You.”
Not exactly a rip-roaring call to arms is it? Sounds more like the pitch for local elections. Dunne remains a candidate without an online presence, that I know next to nothing about (like why he left Labour).
And ditto Elizabeth O’Sullivan. Literally the only information I have for her is that provided by the Kildare returning officer for elections, which amounts to her name, address, occupation and a small photo. I can find nothing else about her or her campaign online.
Update 17/2/16: She too has an audio statement on KFM:
“I am appealing to the people of North Kildare to consider me as their #1 non-party candidate.I will advocate for rebuilding and investing in basic community services. These are vital for our families with young children, our teenagers, and our vulnerable senior citizens, and citizens with special needs. I will support a government that tackles the housing crisis, which will remove social housing from the private sector. I also beleive in an affordable and regulated childcare model providing a fairer deal for young families. I am passionate about this, and have a strong background in this area. The economic recovery, has not embraced everyone. We need more job opportunities, and training and upksilling for workers, young and not so young. And finally crime: no more cutting corners in Garda recruitment and resources. People have a right to live a life free from fear. Thank You, and I respectfully ask for your #1 vote on the 26th of February.”
Fairly standard stuff, and little I could object to. But again, it seems like a local pitch, and the lack of an online presence is off-putting.
Update 22/2/16: She has a Twitter account and a WordPress blog up very, very late, which doesn’t exactly speak well of her. A few positions outlined there, mostly the kind of thing you’ll have heard from existing left or centre-left candidates: opposing cuts, pro-community healthcare, pro-more Garda, etc.
Thankfully, Cllr Brendan Young is a bit different. He has a website and a social media presence, so a lot more can be looked up for him. As a self-identified “anti-austerity” candidate and one of the leading lights of the local anti-water charge movement, you won’t be surprised to learn that Young has a lot in common, policy wise, with Ashling Merriman of the AAA-PBP. Indeed, I’m almost surprised he isn’t a part of that organisation, but maybe he just prefers being his own man. He opposes water charges and property tax, wants an end to repossessions, a repeal of the 8th amendment, the end of “Irish collusion with invasions in the Middle East” (hmm) and all of the usual positions you associate with those on the hard-left.
It’s a bit tricky to analyse Independent chances in Kildare North. On the face of it, there’s a decent chunk of the vote there for them. But the majority of it is probably wrapped up in the previously Independent Catherine Murphy, who took 13.5% of the first preferences in 2011. Of course, she’s now in a party, but I imagine most of her voters will follow her, and then some, with the sitting TD widely expected to top the poll. Independent numbers in polls tend to also include “Other”, that is, the small parties like the Social Democrats. The other three Independents in 2011, one of which was Michael Beirne, couldn’t get a thousand votes between them and went home bottom of the pile, and without expenses.
The locals of 2014 give a slightly rosier picture, with Independents taking 8 of 40 seats, the same number as Fine Gael. So, there is an appetite for Independents in Kildare North, but the question is whether it’s enough of a substantial one that it would get an actual Independent elected with Catherine Murphy running. And I would imagine the answer is no. Michael Beirne will go home without expenses for sure, and if the sheer lack of information on them is any indication, the same can be said for Gerard Dunne and Elizabeth O’Sullivan.
It’s Young who is the potential wildcard, having some electoral success to his name, but even that isn’t all that impressive when you look closely: he won the fifth of seven seats in Celbridge/Leixlip, out of a field of 17 candidates. He failed to make the quota, and was elected by default on the 12th count, behind two Fianna Fail candidates (one of whom was Frank O’Rourke), one Fine Gael and another Independent, Anthony Larkin, who got double his votes. That does not indicate that he has much of a chance on the bigger level. Catherine Murphy is taking that “Other” vote in Kildare North, and she’s going to be taking nearly all of it.
And I’m not too torn up about the likely fates of any of the four Independent candidates here, I’m not seriously contemplating a high preference for any of them. Beirne is the obligatory no-hoper candidate that always seems to pop up in any constituency at any election, Dunne and O’Sullivan are non-entities. And Young, like Merriman, seems like a genuinely committed person but whose opinions on credible economics differ greatly from my own. He seems to be a one-issue man, insofar as his main focus and claim to fame is almost exclusively water charge related, and if I disagree with his stance on that topic, then I can’t really say he’s a tempting prospect.
Victory and defeat for the four Independent candidates differs greatly from person to person. For Beirne, getting his expenses back would be a remarkable achievement. I imagine the same might be the case for Dunne and O’Sullivan. It’s likely that the three will be tripping over each other at the very bottom of the 14 candidates. Young can’t have serious expectations of challenging – if nothing else, the number of left-wing candidates will dilute his vote share too much – but I think should have the better local exposure and electoral resources to outdo Merriman and, on a very good day, Frank O’Rourke and Shane FitzGerald. A bad result would be falling behind Merriman and into the also-ran pile that his fellow Independent brethren will be inhabiting.
I mean, I get it. The likes of Mick Wallace and “Ming” Flanagan are potent inspirations for some people. I imagine it is easy to become intoxicated with the idea of running as an Independent, catching fire with the electorate, and shooting straight for the top of the poll. But it’s important to remember that Wallace and Flanagan were exceptions to the usual trends for Independents, whose success was heavily influenced by the financial crisis and unique local situations: none of the Kildare North Independents founded a League of Ireland football team for example.
The truth is that most Independents were either well-known before they ran (like Shane Ross), inherited a legacy (Maureen O’Sullivan, Michael Healy-Rae) or used to be members of political parties (Michael Lowry, Noel Grealish). It’s easy to forget that Catherine Murphy was a member of three before she became an avowed Independent, and that kind of experience and access to electoral resources means a lot. None of the four here fit the bill of surprise Independent success.
Next up, Labour’s man.