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New Tea-Seach

Camped out in the Dáil canteen, Harris prepped to woo 'kingmaker' Independents

Meetings between Independent TDs and Simon Harris have been underway over the last two days.

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IN THE RUN up to the Dáil vote next week that will elect Fine Gael’s Simon Harris as the next Taoiseach, there has been much talk about Independent TDs. 

People might be wondering about the significance of the Independent TDs and why their backing for Harris is so important.

It all comes down to this government working off a slim majority of 81 in the Dáil, which means they often have to rely on the support of independents in important votes. 

Harris has been meeting with Independent TDs this week to shore up their support.

The soon-to-be-Taoiseach was camped out in the Dáil canteen for a couple of hours yesterday with his team of advisers, where a number of Independent TDs were also spotted, hovering around.

Picking up a quick coffee and dropping of their wish list for Harris, perhaps.

Pledging support 

A number of meetings were held yesterday, including one with former Fine Gaeler Denis Naughten (though it’s believed it didn’t take place in the canteen). Naughten later pledged his support on X for Harris.

This was followed by TD Michael Lowry also backing the Wicklow TD for the top job in a statement last night. 

Former Fianna Fáiler, now Independent TD for Sligo, Marc MacSharry has also said he will vote for Harris next week, as has suspended Green Party TD Neasa Hourigan.

The Green Party suspended Hourigan last May for 15 months and stripped her of her role as Oireachtas budgetary committee chair for not supporting the government in a vote on the eviction ban. 

It is understood that former-Fine Gael TD Joe McHugh, who has since been an independent candidate after leaving the party over the Mica Homes scandal, has also given his support to Harris. 

Noel Grealish, the Galway West deputy, said he will support the Fine Gael leader, following a meeting this morning.

Independent TD Cathal Berry is also meeting Harris today.

One TD, Seán Canney of Galway East, has yet to make a decision. 

With several government TDs either losing the government whip or leaving their party in recent months, the government has been forced to turn to Independent TDs to shore up votes, such as with the vote of confidence in Justice Minister Helen McEntee.

The government won out with a tight 83 votes. 

‘Nod and wink’ deals 

While talk of side-deals are often denied, the pledges of support often come with the promise of something from the new Taoiseach.

It is understood that Independents who backed Leo Varadkar in his vote as Taoiseach will want the projects and promises they received for their support to get over the line before the general election is called. 

An example of the wheeling and dealing that can go on behind closed doors is back in 2016 with the nomination of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach.

Both Enda Kenny and Micheál Martin had failed to be elected Taoiseach during three Dáil votes on who would become the next Taoiseach. 

It came down to the wire: talks between Kenny and members of the Independent Alliance group continued right up to minutes before the call for the vote.

Fine Gael tried to push the vote for an earlier time in a bid to conclude the talks with independents, which had gone on all night, but Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice had an outstanding issue with turf cutting on bogs. 

In the end, as TDs were coming into the Dáil chamber to vote, the Independent Alliance members were the last ones into the room. 

Fitzmaurice did not join them, and he was the only member of the grouping not to vote for Enda Kenny as Taoiseach that day due to no resolution on the issue of bog cutting being found.

The Independent Alliance ended up going into government with Fine Gael, without Fitzmaurice. Shane Ross became a minister, while Finian McGrath, John Halligan, Sean Canney and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, all got jobs as junior ministers. 

There was also the deal Tony Gregory, as a newly elected Independent TD, struck with Charles Haughey to return Fianna Fáil to government.

While nowadays, any deals are done with ‘nod and a wink’, the Dublin Central TD managed to get written commitments from Haughey in February 1982. 

Jackie Healy Rae’s deal with Bertie Ahern in 2007 is reported to have been worth a lot to Kerry projects.

In 2020, Leo Varadkar is understood to have offered a deal for Independents similar to that struck with the late Healy-Rae with Fianna Fáil governments in the past, giving Independent TDs ease of access to the Taoiseach’s office. 

So while the larger parties hold the most seats, at the end of the day, the Independent TDs can often be seen as the kingmakers, in some situations.

The higher the majority number is, the more comfortable Harris will feel next Tuesday, when all members of the Dáil cast their votes.  

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