The Independent Alliance is a loose grouping of independents formed in March 2015 by TDs Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice. As it is not technically a party, it has no whip and no policies, which has led some people to question the purpose of it other than as a Dail Technical Group. They are running approximately 20 candidates in the general election.
Their sitting TDs include Ross, Fitzmaurice, John Halligan, Tom Fleming (not contesting) and Finian McGrath, as well as Senators Gerard Craughwell and Feargal Quinn. They represent a broad range of left and right wing views. Halligan and McGrath are strongly on the left, Ross is on the right, Fleming and Craughwell are around the centre, and Quinn is conservative.
As part of their principles and priorities, reiterated in their Charter for Change, signed by all their member, they commit to a variety of commendable positions popular across the spectrum and usually championed by the left. These are primarily based on ideas of transparency, accountability, equal opportunity, an end to cronyism, a reform of banking, and a revival of rural Ireland, but they don’t elaborate on how this will be achieved. Quinn is certainly committed to the idea of accountability and transparency, which he attempted to achieve in 2013 when he, along with Senators Katherine Zappone and Mary Ann O’Brien proposed the Seanad Bill 2013 to reform the way Senators are elected so that it will be based on a one person, one vote franchise. However, his opposition to same-sex marriage calls into question the reality of the Independent Alliance’s commitment to equality and equal opportunity.
Their biggest point is opposition to cronyism and political appointments, but this is an area where the Independent Alliance also has its hands dirty. Michael Fitzmaurice, TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim and contesting the new Roscommon-Galway constituency, was elected to the Dail in 2014 only a few months after his election to Galway County Council. In this by-election he was effectively the candidate of outgoing TD (now MEP) Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan. This is a move broadly opposed by the Independent Alliance, the placement of insiders in roles.
Shane Ross himself, the most vocal of all of them and essentially the leader of the Alliance, has quite a murky past. He presents himself as a champion of the people, and as a result of his friendly (and business) relationship with the media, he has a very positive public image. In reality he is a shareholder activist, a former independent Senator, a former Fine Gael councillor and general election candidate, and he was previously Business Editor of the Sunday Independent. He also criticised the Bank of Ireland for not even interviewing Sean Fitzpatrick for the position of Governor of BoI, and praised Sean Quinn for buying shares in Anglo. Fitzpatrick was at the time CEO of Anglo Irish Bank, which almost collapsed in 2008, costing the taxpayer billions of €s, and he was charged in 2012 for various offences including financial irregularities and his tampering of Anglo share prices. Quinn went bankrupt in 2011/2012 and was jailed in 2012 for predatory asset stripping and refusal to cooperate with the IBRC.
As a Senator, Shane Ross represented the University of Dublin (Trinity) constituency for 20 years, previously represented by his father John. Ross was also succeeded as Business Editor of the Sunday Independent by his son-in-law, Nick Webb.
Other TDs representing the Independent Alliance have been strong liberal campaigners on issues such as same sex marriage, abortion and in opposition to cuts to public services and regressive taxes. However one of these, Finian McGrath (Dublin Bay North), supported, alongside fellow independents Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae, the Fianna Fail government of Bertie Ahern from 2007 until he withdrew his support in late 2008. He also denied the existence of human rights abuses in Cuba, calling it “rightwing propaganda” when questioned on his support for the Castro regime on the basis of Amnesty International reports on human rights violations.