The irrepressible Jackie Healy-Rae had an interesting story to tell back on Radio Kerry in December 1999.
Presenter Niall Madigan asked him to confirm that one day he was late for the Dublin-Killarney train and a Minister’s limousine took him from Leinster House to Heuston Station.
Leaving the rest to the famous Kilgarvan’s late Healy-Rae: ‘Well, there’s no question or doubt, that’s what happened. But I’ll tell you a better one… I don’t know if I should say everything, but it seems I have to do it now.
“One day I was coming down the Curragh of Kildare, I was given permission to leave the house that everything was fine and within about 20 or 25 minutes a helicopter was overhead and directing me to a garage to drive until I am taken back to Dublin for the vote.
“And unfortunately, just as we were getting ready to dock, I got a message on my cell phone that everything was fine, the thing upstairs had been canceled so I didn’t have to get on the helicopter and go back up,” he said.
Jackie Healy-Rae died in 2014, but the political house he built still lives on.
Independent TDs, the glue that holds together faltering governments, come and go in waves and are often the focus of speculation and debate about “wagging dogs”. They were an important factor in the Inter-Party Government of 1948 and later, quite discreetly, supported the Fianna Fáil minority governments for Taoisigh Éamon de Valera and Seán Lemass.
They reappeared in the chaotic three-election period of 1981/1982, when Tony Gregory sold his support for an inner-city Dublin development package and Limerick socialist Jim Kemmy Garret pulled FitzGerald’s budget over VAT on children’s shoes.
But the latest crop of 21 independents and other TDs in the current Dáil owes much to the fame of Jackie Healy-Rae and his peers Harry Blaney, Donegal’s Thomas Gildea and Wicklow’s Mildred Fox. The quartet was the third pillar of the stool that supported Bertie Ahern’s 1997-2002 Fianna Fáil-led coalition, which defied all experts and carried out a full five-year term.
The privilege of these four independent TDs from 1997-2002 was sometimes that they only had the first chance to announce goodies for their respective constituencies. But the legend of their ultimate power grew, and by the fall of 1999 — two years after the arrangement went into effect — Jackie Healy-Rae was able to casually reply, “Just a few per million,” when asked how much he secured for a have bridge project in south kerry.
That meant many voters in many other constituencies decided they wanted their “own Healy-Rae” to secure the hospital, build that bridge, fill in the potholes, and bring other goodies home.
The last time, on 7 February 2020, Irish voters returned 21 Independents and others to the Dáil.
And last week, when former Fine Gael Minister Joe McHugh jumped the Fine Gael ship over the Glimmer compensation scheme, the current tripartite coalition technically lost its majority of over 80 TDs in the 160-seat Dáil. Last September, Fianna Fáil had lost her Sligo-Leitrim TD, Marc MacSharry, and in May the Greens lost Neasa Hourigan and Patrick Costello.
Suddenly the spotlight was once again on those Independents and Others, nine of whom swelled the tripartite coalition numbers in Micheál Martin’s election to the Taoiseach on June 27, 2020.
On Sunday, it said the Taoiseach contacted certain independent TDs and secured last-minute fire insurance on Tuesday’s no-confidence vote carried out by Sinn Féin against the coalition. Mary Lou McDonald, who stressed that she would never tell another non-Sinn-Féin TD how to vote, urged independents not to support the government.
Two strong-willed independents, Marian Harkin from Sligo-Leitrim and Matt Shanahan, made it clear that their decisions were guided by the interests of the electorate.
In this case the government won, as the ‘exiles’ of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Green Party stayed with their former and perhaps future parliamentary colleagues. Four independent TDs also voted with the government – Michael Lowry, Cathal Berry, Peter Fitzpatrick and Seán Canney.
This will bring the focus back to what promises they received for that good deed – or not. But longer term, in a changing political landscape, there is speculation that independent power may have peaked.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/healy-rae-effect-still-with-us-but-independents-power-might-have-peaked-41838496.html The “Healy Rae Effect” is still with us, but the power of the independents may have peaked