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High Table Election Debates

McGrath vs. McGrath: These lads had a lively (and hilarious) row in our office

In the first of our election debates, Finian McGrath and Mattie McGrath debated whether it’s better to be Independent Alliance or just independent.

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NEARLY EVERY VOTER in the country will have a chance to vote for an independent candidate in the general election.

This week a group of a independents came together under the Independent Alliance banner and published ten broad principles which they say would guide any post-election negotiations for government. It’s being billed as something radically new in Irish politics.

Sitting TD Finian McGrath is running under the alliance’s banner.

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 18.20.10

But is he any better than an old-style independent like Mattie McGrath, once of Fianna Fáil, who is running for re-election in Tipperary?

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To find out whether Independent Alliance is better than independent we got the two McGraths into offices earlier to debate.

The first of our High Table Election Debates was a lively – and at times hilarious – affair:

Nicky Ryan and Michael Sheils /

The best bits

1. Does the Independent Alliance confuse voters? 

By his own admission, Finian says there is “a lot of confusion” about the Independent Alliance, but he insists he’s still an independent, saying: ”I’m not giving up my stance as an independent. I think people are mixing up Independent Alliance with a political party.

We are challenging the parties, we are sick and tired of the parties. We stand for new politics, reform and also new ideas and this is one of the new ideas.

Unsurprisingly, Mattie disagrees.

He said he was “turfed out” of the Dáil Technical Group over his views on social issues, although Finian disputes this: / YouTube

With respect to the “the lads”, who are “all good friends of mine”, Mattie says what the Independent Alliance offers is confusing voters:

An independent is an independent. It does what it says on the tin, you stand up and represent your constituency and I make no apologies for representing my constituency, that’s who elect me, that’s who I’m responsible to.

He says that if the current government is three or four seats short of a Dáil majority it will look to people like him for support, not the alliance. He told us: “They’re going to look at ordinary genuine independents, as it says on the tin, and will do individual deals in the situation, if necessary.”

2. So is Mattie after a deal for Tipp? 

The late Kerry TD Jackie Healy-Rae famously negotiated goodies for his constituents with Bertie Ahern, something which has been widely viewed as the very definition of ‘parish pump politics‘.


Mattie rejects comparisons to Healy-Rae but admits he’d look for something along those lines for his constituents:

Certainly I want infrastructure, I want investment in Tipperary which we have been lacking. We’re the Golden Vale, the Premier County, but it’s not being treated as that as many other parts of rural Ireland aren’t either and Ireland doesn’t stop at the M50.

But he doesn’t mind being described as a parish pump politician:

Every politician in the Dáil, who gets elected this time, will have to have a track record of delivering.

IMG_8666 Finian McGrath and Mattie McGrath at's offices in Dublin today.

3. What parties can independents work with?

One of the potential faultlines in the Independent Alliance is that some members say they’d talk to Sinn Féin about governing after the next election while others, notably Shane Ross, wouldn’t.

Finian said he doesn’t do “political snobbery” and has “an open mind” about which party he would govern with. Mattie said he wouldn’t “demonise” Sinn Féin.

But Mattie takes issue with Finian’s stance and the problems it could cause in the Independent Alliance. An entertaining row ensues:

Video / YouTube

In an odd analogy, Mattie tells Finian:

You’d never do if you were a farmer sowing seed potatoes because you’d set all different ones and it’d confuse the seeds, and we wouldn’t have any kind of a crop.

4. Has Finian let the cat out of the bag? 

The Independent Alliance says it will back a government on motions of confidence and financial issues if it agrees a programme for government. But what happens if one or two members of the alliance disagree with backing such a motion?

“Well then the person falls overboard and that’s the reality,” Finian admits.

This is music to Mattie’s ears who jokes about the alliance being able to have an Ard Fheis now that Sinn Féin has postponed their own. Another lively back and forth ensues: / YouTube

5. Still mates 

Despite the disagreements, the two McGraths were in flying form off camera, constantly joking and laughing.

Finian insists the Independent Alliance is people that work together “who come from different backgrounds and it’s a new idea in Irish politics and that’s why are you trying to destroy it, because you’re afraid of it”.

Whether that’s true or not Mattie concludes that his campaign is going great because voters aren’t confused about what he’s offering BUT he wishes Finian and “the lads” all the best for the election.


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Originally published 9pm, 13 January

Read: Fianna Fáil’s new ad lashes Enda Kenny’s infamous promise

Read: Meet the self-styled radical independents who don’t agree on everything

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