A Dail reform campaign bigger than Fintan was aborted – why the secrecy?

It turns out that Democracy Now was the label for a full blown campaign to contest the next Dail election, if it had  been called even a month later, according to the Sunday Tribune lead. It was much more than a solo run by Fintan backed by a few friends , which was the impression I’d gained from his Irish Times article. The Tribune reports..

The objective was to win 20-25 seats and be in a position to hold the balance of power in the new Dáil

Finance was being organised with a number of donors lined up. It is understood that €400,000 was pledged in one day and there were advanced plans to start an internet fundraising campaign.

The agreement was that Democracy Now candidates would stand on five core principles, which included a commitment to holding a referendum on the EU/IMF bailout deal which the movement believes to be unsustainable; political reform and a public inquiry into the regulatory and governmental failures that caused the economic and banking crisis.

If O’Toole was less than fully candid, McWillliams was downright furtive. If I’m doing him a disservice and he has explained himself  I’ll correct it when the Business Post is downloaded on Monday 10 a.m. Why all the coyness about  aborting the move, guys? Surely you know better than most that the truth will out. Was it to be a campaign, a movement or an embryonic party? Was it designed to oppose the established parties or win them over? Voting according a conscience is a luxury best reserved for a very few issues, hardly a charter for reform or power sharing.

If this wasn’t the right time, when will be? After this flop, it’s hard to see how they can ever gain second wind unless the Republic’s crisis deepens. A new coalition should steal quite a lot of their thunder if not the full monty of  renegotation.   At the very least, the Republic’s voters are owed a better explanation of why Democracy Now was aborted. Until they get one, a cloud will hang over every word the movers write.

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  • If a party *did* stand offering a referendum on the bailout, surely it would lead to a confidence crash during the early part of the campaign in the likely event that they had a good opinion-poll standing (one that would flatter such a party I would suspect)?

    Anyone standing on such a ticket would pick up the blame for that.

  • Brian Walker

    ..another possible reason why they need to come clean – were they too split to carry on?

  • Cynic2

    There is a sense in some in the political class (or wannabe political class) in the Republic that there is some magic ‘get out of jail free’ card available somewhere on the bailout and the economic crisis. They see them playing this and being the saviour of the Irish people. Some, like Democracy Now, have a fully worked up but unworkable plan that relies on magic fantasy. Some like SF aren’t really sure what the plan will be but are sure there is one.

    Its all electoral pixie dust and, much as they hate the banks and FF, the voters know that

  • John Ó Néill

    Brian – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – the month early excuse doesn’t seem viable. Most of those touted as candidates would be relying on a pre-existing media profile to replace a party machine with some highly visible local canvases.
    I think they just don’t have enough people with a high profile willing to stand. Given that FF, FG and Labour more or less share an economic orthodoxy, any new group would have to pitch strongly left or right and that was surely a factor as it couldn’t really do both. Since the United Left Alliance exists as a sort of catch-all non-party left grouping, the room on the hustings is really on the right which may not have been palatable to some of the Democracy now people.

  • Cynic,

    All good points though it remains to be seen how far the public *really* believe that there isn’t any pixie-dust on offer.


    I’d not completely agree that the left-right continuum is the only way of looking at this. Either populism or a technocratic option offers a way of stepping outside of this spectrum. Whatever, it’s all too late now I’d have thought…..

  • John Ó Néill


    I’m not disagreeing – at this distance (to 2nd March or 25th Feb or whenever election is held) – economics seems likely to be the central campaigning issue.
    In the short term, promoting values based on *integrity* or *ability* would be harder to communicate since they are slightly more fugitive concepts. Given the relative conservatism of voters in the Republic – the constituencies with the highest potential already have independents declared like Ross or those under the ULA umbrella.
    This doesn’t preclude more solo runs like Shane Ross has made (or Paul Sommerville) – mostly in competition for those additional seats that FG needs to win the outright majority they dream of. As, among other things, Martin has began to rationalise the number of FF candidates, I doubt Fine Gael will reach 70 seats but they still believe. I suspect that David McWilliams might still let himself be persuaded to stand, albeit *under duress*, and I’d guess others now will make individual decisions.

  • Brian Walker

    The referendum idea was a bummer… Anyway can you imagine any Dail passing the enabling legislation?

  • Ceist

    This looks like a vanity project from a few commentators who then approached various minor celebrities chosen on a basis of electability rather than capability (or even god forbid, cohesion of thought).

    I know what with the 24 news cycle et al politics is getting more process focused but this just looks like cynical opportunistic tripe.

    Claiming the name ‘Democracy Now’ for a group whose stated aim is to be the tail that wags the dog is, in itself patronising nonsense.

    Eamon Dunphy in the Dail is a thought worth shuddering at.

    Eamon Dunphy in the Dail as part of a grand democratic renewal?

    Come back Healy Rae, all is forgiven

  • the old Manxman

    I’m a bit puzzled by the idea that an extra month would somehow give then time to get off the ground. If anything this sort of campaign would be more effect over just a few weeks when the momentum wouldn’t have a chance to die down. And it’s not as if everyone didn’t expect an election to happen soon.

    In any case, as the core of the campaign is these five pledges, surely the aim should be to get a many candidates, who actually are standing, to sign up to them. This is especially true with the ever-growing support for independents in the polls. And of course there’s nothing to prevent any of the these big names from standing as independents themselves to promote these policies. After all the election hasn’t even been called yet.

    As far as a referendum of the bailout goes though, I wouldn’t be too sure that it would cause any sort of crash. The ‘if we don’t do this the markets will take revenge’ line is getting a bit thin. Not least because of all the times it hasn’t happened, but mainly because the markets already factor in possible outcomes way ahead, and some reckon that this is already happening with a default.

  • Cynic2


    I agree. They have a deal to fix it – it will just be costly and if having signed the deal and passed the Finance Bill, the new Government tries to renegotiate or default then I suspect the price for Ireland will be very high.

    There’s no joy in this for anyone. I wish it weren’t so and wish them well but its an awful state of affairs and they just have to work it out.

    I heard one commentator on RTE a week ago estimating that the amount of value destroyed in Ireland in the last 3 years was 300% of GDP and it would therefore take about 70 years at 3% compound growth to get back to the level of value in 2008.

    Now that is a slightly spurious argument in that we had all convinced ourselves that the assets were worth 400% of what they are today but in reality the real value wasn’t anything like that at all. Houses and businesses are only worth what someone is willing and able to pay for them and in a large country with a relatively low population density the astronomic land prices were utterly foolish.

    We need to realise that we were all part of the madness – not just the bankers and politicians and developers – but all of us

  • Beaverbrook

    You just can’t help feeling they bottled it. Here was a group of people who were suggesting they had the answers against the backdrop of the most horrendous economic conditions. But the reality is that they let the weakest among them tear it down. Fintan, on radio at the weekend, alluded to how once one had doubt it affected the others. Sorry guys, in this situation its real, strong, committed leadership that’s needed – not a knitting circle.
    Revealing now that they’d set a target of at least 20 seats and anything else wouldn’t cut it, has a whiff of red herring about it. (What about any number say between 10 and 20?)The failure to achieve it has conveniently let them all off the hook. The time argument also holds little water. If you’re committed and determined nothing will stop you.
    When you add it up – they’re gone, safe in their own jobs and with no credible alternative to offer the electorate. And maybe that is the central message. There isn’t an alternative in a national crisis other than combined effort to sort it out.

  • Greenflag

    As an FG/Lab Coalition will be implementing FF/GP policy for the next several years then any ‘real ‘ opposition will have to be provided by SF .It’s in this context that a “Democracy Now ‘ movement should be established to provide a non ideological common sense base for coherent opposition to the FF/FG/Lab craven status quo to the ECB/IMF .

    It’s not too late to do it but the time frame for it is no more than a week . Would love to see McWilliams having a bite at the political hustings .

  • wee buns

    I’m not sure the idea of ‘pixie dust’ is relevant under the circumstances where the electorate has the choice of being shafted by one crowd or…err…shafted by the other, or by several. The Egyptians, are they sprinkled with it too? Surely the principle of having a stab at change holds some value, even when the odds are slim. Otherwise why not simply bend over and hold your ankles?
    There surely must be a more credible explanation as to why these amigos lost momentum apart from ‘no time’. Mc Williams was reported to have been reluctant towards limelight even before the pandemonium of the past two weeks erupted. Perhaps it was a leadership crisis within the grouping. Kind of a pity for those who have already put themselves forward on the understanding they’d be joined by others; thinking of Paul Summerville.

  • GF,

    It’s in this context that a “Democracy Now ‘ movement should be established to provide a non ideological common sense base

    Non-ideological? Surely the last thing Ireland needs right now is yet another Fianna Fáil?

  • Nunoftheabove


    Shane Ross provided a plausible-ish explanation as to how they intended the DN ‘arrangement’ to work yesterday on the radio and why in the end it didn’t fly, mainly suggesting that there just wasn’t enough time to give it legs in the run-up at this late-ish hour, presumably what with the need to fund-raise, pull a team together etc etc.

    Dunphy didn’t give too much away on his show yesterday about it other than to say that it wasn’t not going to go ahead and he seemed a little regretful about it.

    I would imagine that of the names quoted O’Toole is the most disappointed that it has come to nothing but he may yet run solo.

  • Frame

    The last ‘Democracy Now’ movement was in the Labour Party and led by Kate Hoey MP.

    Its policy was pursuing the right for residents of Northern Ireland to join the party of government and to participate fully in it.

    It has yet to succeed.

  • Greenflag

    andrew gallagher,

    ‘Surely the last thing Ireland needs right now is yet another Fianna Fáil?’

    The country needs a party that is neither driven by the ideologues of left or right nor tarnished by the remains of FF in disarray . A group of 20 or so Independent TD’s along with 15 or so SF could be enough to keep any new government on it’s toes . FF may find ‘opposition’ not to their liking
    assuming enough of them return to the Dail . Can anyone realistically see them ‘opposing’ their own Finance Bill implemented by FG/LAB ?

  • Munsterview

    The main proponents of this concept are well keyed in and indeed insiders in Southern Politics. They know that there is a social grouping prepared to take their chance with a strong Fine Gael majority. However if it seemed like the Fintian Grouping were to get off the ground with ‘ethics in government’ and such nonsense, then this group would quickly come to the fore to protect their class interests.

    Fintian and his friends had enough nonuse to know that in this event they would be very likely be muscled aside by the heavyweights. At the end of the day, they proved no different to the politicians that they castigated : they too opted for their salaries, pensions, status and by default the continuing status quo that they are firmly embedded in and very much the defenders of.

  • wee buns

    Mc Williams not to stand, but promises an ‘Obama Style’ campaign and says the ‘movement’ has only just started.