From top: A box fresh copy of Making Up The Numbers by Dan Boyle ; Dan Boyle
Having made myself the unofficial historian for the Green Party in Ireland, I produced two books – ‘A Journey To Change’ an account of the party’s first twenty five years in existence; and ‘Without Power or Glory’ a personalised account of party’s period in government (2007/11).
When I undertook a Masters degree in Government (2013/14), I thought it might be interesting that my thesis should be to compare and contrast the experiences of the six smaller parties, that have been part of governments in Ireland. In the back of my mind I thought it might form the basis of a future book.
The thesis being twenty thousand words in length was far too short to be made into a book. I also began to think that focus of such a book, concentrating on only the six parties concerned, may have been too narrowly focussed. There was a wider story to be told about smaller parties and independents in Irish politics, and I wanted to tell it.
A number of books have been written on some of the smaller, now largely disappeared, parties. Books have also written been about individual independents and about the concept of independents. I wanted to write a comprehensive account of others in Irish politics. It may not be fully comprehensive but I am hoping that the gaps that are identified may become easier to fill in.
I believe it is a story worth telling. On average around 15% of the vote has been won by others. Over five hundred and fifty Dáil seats have been won by others, more than the number won by the Labour Party. These seats have often been vital in determining whether governments could be formed, or if a sitting government could continue in existence.
Those with large personalities and their willingness to be different are traits that are found more often among smaller parties and independents. There are many interesting personal stories among those others who have been elected in Ireland, some of those stories quite tragic. There can be no denying that others have brought large amounts of colour into a political system that has otherwise been quite moribund.
Others have been the source of much of the change that has occurred in Irish politics, even when the achievement of change has been a factor in hastening the end of many smaller parties.
Probably the biggest achievement of others in Irish politics has been to slowly move our politics from a politics of tribes to a politics of more coherent political beliefs, born from philosophies that bend less to the breeze of perceived public opinion. That change may not yet be complete, although we have moved considerably in that direction.
The vote for others may oscillate in future elections. It is likely though that it will remain a significant vote, and thus will continue to be necessary when new governments are being formed.
Our borrowed Westminster system of government now operates with a European style political diversity that helps underline the uniqueness of Irish politics. So much for the better.
Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle
We have three copies of Making Up The Numbers to give away
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How many political parties with the word ‘Clann’ have had Oireachtas representation?
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