The revelation by Finian McGrath — Independent TD for Dublin Bay North, Disabilities Minister, and erstwhile member of the Independent Alliance — that he would not be seeking re-election put the cat among the pigeons.
If the first day of campaigning is anything to go by, it is going to be an election chock full of surprises.
We’ve known for months who would not be contesting any fresh vote, with the likes of Michael Noonan and Enda Kenny having made it clear that any future battles would be conducted without their reliable presence in the trenches, while in Cork North Central 75% of TDs elected last time out will not be contesting the vote next month.
Within minutes of Leo Varadkar informing his Cabinet of his intention to hold a general election on February 8, however, announcements were dropping.
The first big one was a bombshell. The revelation by Finian McGrath, Independent TD for Dublin Bay North, disabilities minister, and erstwhile member of the Independent Alliance, that he would not be seeking reelection put the cat among the pigeons.
It leaves an opening in one of Dublin’s most hotly contested constituencies for parties such as the Social Democrats to target. It sees a fourterm TD unexpectedly refuse his seat, and it surely spells doom for the Independent Alliance, already minus Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran for the coming contest.
Just four days ago, Mr McGrath had welcomed the Cabinet to his local haunts to discuss disabilities issues.
He himself had nipped in to secure the final seat on count day four in Dublin Bay North at the last time of asking, emerging victorious after five minutes of electoral carnage saw Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin pay the price for five years of coalition with Fine Gael.
A popular figure in the Dáil with a deeply felt devotion to the rights of people with disabilities, Mr McGrath represented the stable side of the Independent Alliance, contrasted with his more bombastic colleagues Shane Ross and John Halligan. In signing off from Leinster House, he said his political record “shows that I have been radical, pragmatic, open, and always willing to take responsibility to serve my constituents”. “I did my best,” he said. Meanwhile, senator Michael McDowell, a former TD and attorney general, took the opportunity to confirm that his immediate future lies in the Seanad, not the Dáil, with his commitment remaining to “reform” the Upper House.
But for everyone ruling themselves out, others are waiting in the wings, including those who lost their seat previously, such as Mr Ó Ríordáin and Joanna Tuffy of Labour, as well as new blood.
Twice-elected MEP Matt Carthy quickly confirmed he would be seeking election to the Dáil for his home constituency of Cavan/Monaghan, in order to ensure that the “legacy” of departing local TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin would be maintained.
In Sligo/Leitrim, former MEP Marian Harkin announced her plan to run for TD, and she made it abundantly clear she would be happy to be “at the centre” of any moves to form a government.
Meanwhile, an expected announcement may prove to be quite the headache for Fine Gael — Verona Murphy, whose candidacy in the recent Wexford by-election proved so controversial, announced her decision to run as an independent, with her views on migration issues apparently stronger than ever. Expect sparks to fly.
Finian McGrath: Decision not to stand is set to spell doom for the Independent Alliance.