They came in quick succession. First, we had Michael Fitzmaurice confirming on Monday morning that he is joining forces with Michael Collins and Richard O’Donoghue in Independent Ireland. Then, a day later, Paul Kehoe announced that he will retire from representative politics when this Dáil term ends. It becomes clearer with every passing week that we are closing in on the next election.

Kehoe becomes the tenth sitting Fine Gael TD to declare they are stepping away, more than one-quarter of its 34 TDs. He’s been in the Dáil for 22 years, half that at cabinet, but at 51, is still three years younger than Fitzmaurice.

The Galway-Roscommon TD, in contrast, seems mad for road and preparing for Government with his new party. Collins and O’Donoghue’s talk of TDs in double figures and participation in the next Government needed to be backed up with early action. This first key recruitment is a significant momentum gain.


Fine Gael can’t be sure of retaining Kehoe’s seat. That might sound insane, it once held three seats out of five in Wexford, but the maths has changed. Wexford is now a four-seater, and the Fine Gael candidate will be battling with Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil, Labour, and Independent Verona Murphy for a seat.

Labour will be seeking to hold on to the seat Brendan Howlin has held since 1987, the year of Never Gonna Give You Up.

Five into four won’t go, and the smart money is on either Fine Gael or Labour giving up their seat.

It’s a similar story all over the country. Up in Donegal, Joe McHugh’s seat is even less safe. While Donegal retains five seats, Sinn Féin had almost three quotas last time out, Charlie McConalogue will start ahead of anyone Fine Gael runs, Thomas Pringle is a strong independent TD, and there is a strong prospect of a mica candidate.

Independent Ireland is likely to run somebody in Donegal themselves if Pringle stays separate to them. It is likely to run someone in every constituency in the country, if it gets enough momentum from June’s local elections. Independents are rising in general opinion polls in a way that is mirroring their popularity in the Irish Farmers Journal’s polls and surveys of farmers’ voting intentions for some years now.

It would suggest that if a significant amount of the rural Independents can form a coherent movement, they may become the fourth force in Irish politics, alongside Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

If Fine Gael doesn’t stop the steady bleed of sitting TDs, or find a fresh set of candidates to revitalise its panel for the big season ahead, it faces the prospect of sliding down the rankings.