The Power Of Three



From Left Roisin Shorthall, Catherine Murphy and Stephen Donnelly at the Social Democrats launch yesterday

The Social Democrats.

A short-lived home for popular if routinely disaffected TDs?

Dan Boyle writes:

And so we have a new political party. Formed by three of the more able members of the current Dáil it has a chance of being something different.

Against that it is starting life in much the same way as most political parties in Ireland have been established, being part of the system it wants to change.

Since the foundation of the State only Clann na Talmhan, Clann na Poblachta and The Green Party can be said to have become involved in the political system having been formed from outside of it.

Most ‘new’ political parties have been breakaways from traditional parties. Some have have been new alignments. Some of the more committed independents become frustrated at the limits an individual can do before seeking out other like minded people.

Some of the more iconoclastic members of the Dáil have flitted between both. James Dillon was elected first for the short lived National Centre Party, a brief tying together of the remnants of the old Farmers Party and the National League (itself the dying embers of the Irish Parliamentary Party that last represented Irish interests in Westminster).

The Centre Party became one of the founding components of Fine Gael, from whom Dillon would resign over the question of Irish neutrality during the Second World War. He was still independent in 1948 when he persuaded other independents to support him for cabinet membership.

With the Independent Alliance now, maybe more properly called The Committee To Make Shane Ross A Cabinet Minister, Deputy Ross is hoping that history can repeat itself. The Independent grouping in 1948 as with its Alliance counterpart now, was a fairly motley grouping.

Among Dillon’s supporters then was Oliver J. Flanagan, who while nominally an independent claimed to represent a national movement known as ‘Monetary Reform’. It seems we treated currency issues more seriously then.

The much admired Noel Browne hardly showed himself to be a model of consistency. Elected first as a Clann na Poblachta Minister he was then elected an independent TD, then as a Fianna Fáil TD. When elected again as an independent TD he formed with Jack McQuillan the National Progressive Democrats (not to be confused with).

While effective in opposition no real effort was made to build a party. One by-election was contested but only three candidates contested the 1961 election for the party. Browne and McQuillan were reelected of course, but both were soon to join the Labour Party. This was another party Browne was eventually to leave. There was one more flag for Noel Browne to wave that of the Socialist Labour Party in 1981. Of course this too would end in tears.

In positioning themselves between Labour and Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats could attract disappointed Labour votes on one side and from those who see Sinn Féin as an imperfect protest vehicle on the other. In this they seem better positioned than Renua whose placing of itself between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael doesn’t seem likely to have many spare votes available to it.

Either newly formed party should look at the template established 30 years ago with the foundation of the Progressive Democrats. It was formed by three breakaway Fianna Fáil TDs, two of whom, [Desmond] O’Malley and [Mary] Harney, could be said to be creatures of privilege. O’Malley had inherited his uncle’s seat. Harney was appointed to the Seanad directly upon finishing her university degree.

The third TD, a now almost forgotten man was perhaps the strongest reason the PDs achieved initial success. Pearse Wyse, no ideologue, he, knew the importance of winning and holding onto a vote.

Our political careers briefly crossed over. I remember being regaled at a doorstep by a supporter of his, who let me know that as a Corporation tenant, Pearse had secured not only one but two toilet seats for her. The second of which was being recycled as a picture frame.

What the moral of this pithy history is meant to be is that those led only by high minded political principles cannot of themselves bring about change. Not without the support of agnostic grafters. These are the people who are needed to sustain any new political movement.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party Senator.

Yesterday: What We Stand For


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48 thoughts on “The Power Of Three

  1. Ms Piggy

    Well, Dan Boyle and his era of the Green Party certainly know a thing or two about detaching themselves from high-minded principles. Does he really think we’ve forgotten that he was one of those responsible for propping up the worst Zombie Government in the State’s history? At least John Gormley has the decency to stay out of public life. Boyle seems to think he can worm his way back in.

    1. bisted

      …whatever about the hapless Greens in government, at least they were elected and that mandate must be respected. Dan failed to be elected but was given a sinecure and has secured a pension that we will be paying for long after the bank debt has been paid off.

      1. Ms Piggy

        Good point bisted, I’d actually forgotten he was never even elected in the first place.

    2. classter

      I’m not a big Dan Boyle fan but this is a fairly interesting little piece.
      Not sure why personal comments about the ‘author’ are necessary.

      1. Drogg

        Because he is a parasite leeching off our society while trying to make himself still seem relevant.

      2. bisted

        …as you can see classter/cluster….my comment was redacted …the administrator today seems to be as sensitive as you.

      3. Ms Piggy

        I don’t understand what you mean by ‘personal’ comments. We’re criticising his opinions and political record, not his hair or fashion sense. He wrote an opinion piece, we disagree with it – that’s how debate works and there’s nothing personal about it.

        1. classter

          But you didn;t engage with the piece at all.

          Just straight into the usual, ‘Sure, he’s only…’ playing the man instead of the ball.

          It is very common in Irish politics. It’s a favoured trick of Enda – I can barely think of an example where he hasn’t gone straight for the personal comment.

  2. Drogg

    Seriously Dan shut the fupp up, nobody wants a history lesson on alternative parties and how great your floundering Green Party was for being set up outside the system which they then straddled and rode every penny they could out of. But i rant and i find it hard not to when i hear you fawning over ex-political fascists of the PD’s with lines like “he, knew the importance of winning and holding onto a vote.”. I for one am excited about this new party and the direction they are going in, I am excited about intelligent, proactive people trying to enact real change and bring Ireland back from the abyss that the Greens, FG, FF, PD’s and many other have lead us into.

    1. classter

      You may dislike (even detest?) the PDs but it is clear that they were relatively successful – partly in terms of assuming office, and more importantly in terms of pushing their ideas into the Irish mainstream (some of these were arguably disastrous).

      1. Drogg

        My point was nothing to do with their success of being elected and was more that a man who had no real political input is being championed because above all else he knew how to get elected.

        1. classter

          Which is a fair point but you are swinging at windmills.

          The sad fact (and I think this is the main point Dan is making) is that to have your ideas stick, you need to get elected – you need to have the dirty political skills as well as high-minded rhetoric.

          1. Drogg

            I thought his point was that setting an party up to change the system from the inside is pointless and they will just end up like all the rest.

  3. Dubloony

    Its good to see some people who believe in politics in itself, not just as a vehicle to “smash the system” regardless of any consequences.

  4. Paolo

    I like these guys. They appear to be the hard working socialist TDs who are actual socialists. Unlike the other layabout, opportunistic fools in AAA.

    In other news, did everyone witness the huge crowds that showed up for the water protest last night? I’m glad so many of our Gardai were diverted to policing it, otherwise bystanders would have been in danger of missing the whole event when they blinked.

  5. PeteS

    Pretty highly opinionated about elected TDs for somebody who failed to be elected a TD. Boyle should be lanced.

    1. Dan Boyle

      Was a TD for Cork South Central from 2002 to 2007. I received seven less first preferences in that election and failed to be elected. You don’t have to agree with me but at least inform yourself.

  6. Bonkers

    Dan do you care to address why the Greens were pushing a ban on stag hunting whilst the entire Irish economy was crashing around us? For me that was the last straw with the Greens, they were moving the deckchairs around on the Titanic while it sank

    1. Dan Boyle

      We didn’t push. It wasn’t prioritised. It was a bill, that could have passed easily but others chose to make an issue. The economic situation was always our priority.

      1. Mark Dennehy

        Or maybe you could address the Green’s policies on homeopathy, vaccination and fluoridation.

        I mean, it’s a rainy Thursday, we could do with the laugh.

        1. Dan Boyle

          Given the tone of your post Mark, it seems to me you may not have a sense of humour.

          1. Mark Dennehy

            Well Dan, if I took home €45,000 in expenses on top of my €78,000 salary for being an unelected Senator for several years before getting to claim my six-figure amounts made up from pension lump sums, termination lump sums, allowances and so on, I might have a better sense of humour, but when I have to do an actual job so my taxes pay for you to sit there on twitter chattering away about how homeopathy has a valid place in our healthcare system and other guff, well, the joke is a little hard to laugh at then. Just as easy to see, you understand, but it’s just not as funny when it’s on you.

            In fact, even when I look back at how you thought you’d be elected back in 2011 when the Greens were polling at 2% in a poll with 3% error margins, I still can’t quite get the grin out because I keep wondering: What if we’d elected somebody who was competent to the government that oversaw the near-complete annihilation of the Irish economy?

          2. Dan Boyle

            Took no expenses ‘home’ Mark spent mostly on running a public office. Never received my gross pay either generous as it was. I was appointed to a constitutional position that I worked hard at. Economy suffered through a previous decade of bad policies that the electorate was happy to vote for several times. The economy collapsed it wasn’t annihilated it slipped to the value it was in 2002. Didn’t expect to be elected in 2011 but never will regret standing for Green Party policies. Your obsession with homeopathy is something you would need to see a doctor about.

          3. Mark Dennehy

            Dan, if you took home expenses, it would legally be fraud. The fact that you don’t put them into your bank account does not mean nobody pays for them. We just pay for the cost of you running your office.

            As to homeopathy, I don’t fixate on it, but when someone seriously suggests that it should be part of the national healthcare system – meaning that exchequer funds would be paying out insane prices for water to be given to sick people instead of actual medicine – then yes, I get rather a bit irate. I mentioned it to my GP last time I was at his clinic by the way, and his take on it was that anyone who didn’t get annoyed by that was probably in need of either a good science teacher or a good psychologist.

            I leave it to you to decide which of those you could get the more use from. Or you could just have a glass of water, if you’re sure you wouldn’t be overdosing on something.

  7. David

    The hypehnation nicely caught me out. I read: “…at the So-
    called Democrats launch yesterday.”


    1. Drogg

      My personal favourite was they wanted farmers to stop using lights on their tractors while working at nighttime and instead use night vision googles because the lights attracted insects so the only reason the farmers where using pesticides was because they work at nighttime.

        1. Drogg

          Never was put into legislation but it was banded about by the greens in the early 00’s i remember uproar from the IFA.

          1. Dan Boyle

            Was never proposed. Never in any manifesto. Suggest your memory/imagination might be affected by chemicals…,

          2. Drogg

            Must be the vaccinations i had a child maybe i should stick my tinfoil hat on to block the signal getting out.

  8. Zaccone

    I wouldn’t be a huge fan of the Greens but I’m not sure why Boyle is getting such invective here. It’s a well written, interesting, piece. His points made would be more worthy of discussion than his personal political history.

  9. Liam

    Nice summary Dan. Noteable that the Greens have regrouped after their election wipeout, whereas the PDs disbanded and joined other parties – difference between a movement and a party.

    Donnelly is definitely to the right of the other 2 economically- the “scrap water charges” policy looks like one he’s compromised on; he was defending the policy on Twitter yesterday on the basis that they’ll cost more to collect than they’ll take it; fine but that’s an argument against Irish Water rather than the principle of charging for it.

    1. Dan Boyle

      There’s a case to oppose the flat rate charge, the site serv contract, and Irish Water itself. I’m in that space myself. But I think they are tying themselves in knots in not acknowledging that water needs to be measured and its use paid for.

  10. ollie

    Clann na Talmhan, Clann na Poblachta, The Green Party, the dodo, the cuckoo, the ne-ne, soon to be folllowed by the labour party, the booby, the titmouse, the woodcock, and the titpecker.

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