DEPUTY Stephen Don­nelly’s move to Fianna Fáil has at­tracted at­ten­tion from the pub­lic, even from those for whom pol­i­tics is a dirty word.

While it’s sur­pris­ing to some and shock­ing to oth­ers, Don­nelly has his­tor­i­cally made no bones about his opin­ion that very lit­tle can be done to ef­fect change from the in­de­pen­dent benches.

The party an­nounced last Thurs­day that Deputy Don­nelly would join their ranks, with a front-bench Brexit po­si­tion.

The next day, Stephen took to Face­book to make his own an­nounce­ment on the mat­ter. ‘ There’s been a gen­er­ally pos­i­tive re­ac­tion in Wicklow but also un­der­stand­able frus­tra­tion and sur­prise,’ he said.

He said that the eas­i­est thing would be to stay in­de­pen­dent and try to influence things from the mar­gins. ‘Given what we’re fac­ing, that would be too lit­tle, in my view, and so wasn’t an op­tion. The best way to have im­pact is as part of a strong team. So that’s what I’m do­ing.’

He said that the party is a good pol­icy fit, with com­pa­ra­ble elec­tion man­i­festos be­tween FF and So­cial Democrats, the party Deputy Don­nelly part-founded and sub­se­quently left.

‘Didn’t I crit­i­cise them at length? I did,’ said Deputy Don­nelly. ‘And I stand by those views. I’ve equally crit­i­cised Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin.’

While his now party-col­league, Deputy Pat Casey, has ex­tended a warm wel­come to the new ar­rival, he ac­knowl­edges that it will be more dif­fi­cult to re­tain a seat.

‘It is a chal­lenged that can be achieved if we work to­gether,’ said Pat.

The ques­tion re­mains - is there a sec­ond seat to be had for Fianna Fáil in Wicklow and East Car­low? And if not will it be Don­nelly’s or Casey’s?

Fianna Fáil were an­ni­hi­lated na­tion­ally in the 2011 elec­tion. Dick Roche lost his seat and the party was un­rep­re­sented in Wicklow. Pat Casey filled that void last year. With per­haps four years left to an­other elec­tion, can this duo de­liver?

In terms of his rea­sons, Don­nelly has staunchly de­fended his po­si­tion. ‘If the ob­jec­tive was pay or other com­pen­sa­tions, I can as­sure you that I wouldn’t be in pol­i­tics,’ he said.

‘It’s pretty clear from the on­line feed­back that what I’ve done is make it much harder to get re-elected than had I stayed pop­u­lar, and largely ir­rel­e­vant, as an in­de­pen­dent.’

He added that he has hurt peo­ple he cares about and in­curred a del­uge of abuse, in­clud­ing from within his home town of Grey­stones.

‘I am acutely aware that what I have done has caused a lot of peo­ple hurt, and dis­ap­point­ment, and cyn­i­cism, and even be­trayal. I am acutely aware that that in­cludes some peo­ple who have can­vassed for me, and voted for me. It in­cludes peo­ple who trusted me to be a voice that would speak truth to power. It in­cludes peo­ple who can­vassed for me and peo­ple who voted for me. It in­cludes peo­ple who de­spise Fianna Fáil,’ he said.

‘You go into pol­i­tics to help peo­ple, to make things bet­ter, in what­ever way you think bet­ter is. And so it’s even harder to see that dis­ap­point­ment and anger, when it’s com­ing from the very peo­ple you’re try­ing to make things bet­ter for, and the very peo­ple who’ve helped and sup­ported you. It’s not some­thing you do re­motely lightly, and it feels truly aw­ful.

‘Sit­ting on the in­de­pen­dent benches has been like be­ing a stretcher bearer in some­one else’s war. You can see the in­com­ing fire, you can see who it’s go­ing to hit, but you can’t do any­thing about it. You just try to help the wounded.’

Cllr Tom For­tune of Grey­stones Mu­nic­i­pal Dis­trict said that the role of in­de­pen­dents is im­por­tant. ‘Don’t in mak­ing this po­lit­i­cal ca­reer move try and de­stroy the in­de­pen­dent politi­cian to try and jus­tify what you are do­ing,’ he said. ‘ The pol­i­tics is evolv­ing, in­de­pen­dents are more im­por­tant than ever. If there are no in­de­pen­dents, who is in po­lit­i­cal terms go­ing to say when it is needed that “the Em­peror has no clothes”? The party whip will en­sure it will not be you.”

Cllr Joe Be­han of Bray Mu­nic­i­pal Dis­trict said that the peo­ple of Wicklow and East Car­low have been left with­out an in­de­pen­dent voice. ‘While I wish Stephen Don­nelly well in the fu­ture, in the next elec­tion, vot­ers will have a clear choice be­tween politi­cians who must obey the party whips or in­de­pen­dents who speak for the peo­ple.

‘I will be of­fer­ing a clear in­de­pen­dent voice when­ever that elec­tion comes,’ he said, con­firm­ing his in­ten­tion to run again.

While this week may be given over to field­ing ques­tions and crit­i­cisms,

Stephen Don­nelly with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and col­leagues dur­ing the an­nounce­ment at the Dáil.

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