That was the big news today. Not Trump acting like a bollix praying away to Arnie and the Apprentice (he’s really the president, is he?), not the Bus Éireann strike to come later this month potentially affecting thousands of passengers, no, it was that an Independent TD had applied to join a political party. Surely that’s nothing note worthy, that’s balderdash and a side-show from actual news?
But this was not just any TD, you see…
This was Stephen Donnelly, the man with a plan. He was an anomaly in the Irish political landscape. Being unattached to a political party or dynasty, he was truly independent of the system. He didn’t have a background of community work or parish pump politics to his CV to make himself presentable to his prospective and subsequent constituents, which was something stalwart independents had in spades in the past. Instead, in 2011, he presented himself and his no nonsense attitude with direct, sharp views on the financial mess the country was in, how it was being managed and how it should actually directed for any improvements to occur.
And he SOUNDED like he knew what he was talking about. In the mess of NAMA and Anglo, in the IMF and the Trioka, the ECB and ECW (I made that up), you found yourself half confident in half knowing what was going on half the time after an interview with the Wicklow TD. He blazed a trail in being a new age politician; a person who, after seeing the faults in the public and political realm, came from the private sector to put these wrongs to right, or at least highlight them in his capacity with no ulterior motive or personal profit to be gained.
After some time of building up his brownie points in Dáil Éireann, he went into business with Catherine Murphy, a complete legend of a politician with a hard working red background and a very public present of bringing to light the consummate failure that was, is and forever will be Irish Water. Another shareholder in the new venture was Roisin Shortall, one of the few Labour ministers who had the courage to call bullshit on the then government, walking out on James Reilly when he was doing his best gerrymandering impressions regarding Primary Care Centre locations. While they were baptised the Social Democrats and placed themselves left of centre, Donnelly was certainly the one to keep it “centred”. But even at that, they had found a common ground to create a new political dialogue away from the predictable civil war stuff that he himself decried.
The likeable Murphy, the honourable Shortall and the believable Donnelly, how could the Social Democrats lose to an electorate who were sick of everything to do with anything? They didn’t win, nor did they lose, strictly speaking. They drew. They must have been disappointed to gain no seats, coming very close with Gary Gannon, but to hold their seats identifying then as a new party was still an achievement.
Fast forward some months after #GE16 as the kids called it, and Donnelly left. Irreconcilable differences. The parting was a moot point for both sides, and while far from amicable, it seemed they both said their pieces are were happy with that. Fast forward again and we get to him joining no ordinary party. Fianna Fáil, the party that “more or less” got us into the mess, the party that repeatedly lied and said all was fine, the party that he blamed – among others – on the stagnation of the Irish political scene, the party that will beautify CJ Haughey for all the time to come, ever and after, forever and ever, Eamonn.
Admittedly, I was very quick to scoff and laugh from my very high horse, Morality, and I made the bare minimum requirements of a joke regarding Fianna Fáil on Twitter no less. But then I stopped.
What if this is genuine?
And really, given his private sector background, can anyone be surprised? Not overly. To a certain extent, some SD followers got behind them due to Donnelly’s “charisma”, not necessarily a friendly kind, but it was a confidence and accuracy he held, no doubt from his days as a consultant. They now feel slightly betrayed, as do those who supported them due to their campaigning for marriage equality. Donnelly now goes to the party who supposedly fobbed the referendum as no big deal and laughed at it in party meetings.
So, the man who held views we all agreed with has gone bad in our eyes. It must also be said that his elevation to Spokesperson on Brexit would have certainly ruffled feathers in the party’s backbenches. But just because he is now on the frontbench for Fianna Fáil, that doesn’t change them. Sadly though, it just kind of changes him. By joinging Fianna Fáil, he’s chosen his own destiny, and whether he wins reelection is another matter, he has to win back the minds of the cynics who finally had a little bit of hope.
Alas poor Donnelly, I believed you well.