Michael Fitzmaurice has confirmed that he is joining forces with Independent Ireland, the new political party founded by Michael Collins and Richard O'Donoghue.
"I have spent the last 12 months weighing up the landscape. I was going to set-up a party or leave politics," Fitzmaurice said. "Michael and Richard then announced their new party. After extensive negotiations with them, Independent Ireland operatives and consultation with my core team of supporters, I decided that it was best to join forces with Michael and Richard to build something substantial together".
He told the Irish Farmers Journal that the focus of intensive discussions with Collins and O'Donoghue has been on the development of a policy platform, particularly in relation to farming, land use, and other rural issues such as transport.
"People need to know what they are voting for, and prospective candidates need to know what they're standing for," he said. "Too often independents and new parties fragment into divisively narrow camps when what is needed is unity, dialogue and occasionally compromise. I didn't want to see that happen here. I believe it is better for voters to have a clear, unambiguous choice at election time. I believe that Independent Ireland can be that choice."
Fitzmaurice said that Independent Ireland will have 100 current and former local representatives standing for the party in June's local elections, and is confident the party will also field candidates in the European elections being held at the same time.
Leap of faith
"It takes good people, willing to take a leap of faith, and leave the cosy ranks of the independent benches or establishment parties and commit to doing the hard work of building something new, with a practical approach to public policy and a willingness to enter government without compromising their fundamental principle," he said. " We are going to work day and night to build a party fit for government that will make the tough decisions and do what is right by the people of Ireland.
Fitzmaurice was very firm on where Independent Ireland will sit on the political spectrum. "Before people start talking about right and left, or progressive and conservative, understand this: a nation, a society, is not one thing or another but a melting pot of diversity. Neither Independent Ireland as a party, nor I as an individual, will accept the premise that politics should be used as a tool to divide people. The things that unite us as a nation are far greater than the things that divide us. Progress, real progress, can only be achieved through constructive and respectful dialogue; not division."
Fitzmaurice first came to national attention as chair of the Irish Turfcutters Association, and became an independent county councillor for the Tuam area in May 2014. Despite being a Galwayman, he was elected to Dáil Éireann later that same year in a by-election for the Roscommon/Leitrim constituency triggered by Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's election to the European parliament.
Having been re-elected in 2016 under the Independent Alliance banner, Fitzmaurice declined a junior ministry in the subsequent Fine Gael/Labour/Independent Alliance government, having failed to agree a programme for government, and left the alliance to become an independent TD.
Fitzmaurice has repeatedly said in recent months that he would either form a political party, join a party, or leave representative politics. The big question now is whether he will stand for the Dáil or the European parliament.
"We are delighted that Michael Fitzmaurice has been willing to take the leap of faith and commit to building our new party with us" said Independent Ireland leader Michael Collins. Party secretary Richard O'Donoghue added: “When it comes to building a party rooted in common sense with the goal of improving the lives of the people of Ireland, I don't think we could have looked for a better partner than Michael Fitz”.