The truth about Fintan O’Toole’s aborted Dáil bid

‘Democracy Now’ movement pulled the plug last week, but intends to contest future elections
Shane Coleman and Michael Clifford
David McWilliams

A new political movement packed with household names and fronted by David McWilliams, Eamon Dunphy, Shane Ross and Fintan O’Toole, has aborted plans to contest the general election nationwide.

‘Democracy Now’ had made approaches to a number of high-profile figures including businessman and former Wexford hurling manager Liam Griffin, Cork goalkeeper Dónal Óg Cusack, cystic fibrosis campaigner Orla Tinsley and Seamus Boland, ceo of Irish Rural Networks, to contest the election. Boland confirmed to the Sunday Tribune that he had been approached and said he had an “extremely interesting meeting” with the group.

However, Democracy Now’s plans have been stymied by political developments that saw the election date being brought forward by a month. The objective was to win 20-25 seats and be in a position to hold the balance of power in the new Dáil. Shane Ross is the only Democracy Now candidate running as an independent in Dublin South.

The movement’s decision not to contest – made in the middle of last week – will come as a massive relief to the main political parties as the profile of those involved would have virtually guaranteed the new organisation a decent presence in the Dáil and had the potential to turn the general election upside down. Campaign offices had been identified on Dublin’s Capel Street, provided by John McColgan of Riverdance fame.

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.

Outside of the core principles, deputies would have been free to vote with their conscience as a means of allowing people with diverse political ideologies – such as Shane Ross and Fintan O’Toole – to co-exist in the movement. “It was designed to be non-ideological,” one source said. While Ross, O’Toole and Dunphy would all have contested the general election – along with at least 20 others – McWilliams’ role would have been as a policy advisor. Talks were at an advanced stage with numerous high-profile figures from the arts, sport, business and community activity sectors, sources said. “The plan was to build a movement country-wide. It wasn’t just four hacks,” one source said.

However, the plans were predicated on the general election happening in late March and were seriously undermined when it became clear that the election was likely to happen before the end of February.

This very tight timescale caused enormous problems for some of the would-be candidates who were in jobs or had businesses and needed time to put their affairs – both business and personal – in order. “In the end, it just happened too quickly,” a source said. “If we had had another month it would have been different. The timeframe just placed too much pressure on people. We didn’t want to go half-cocked.

“It was a very honourable intention to bring an injection of original thinking, break dynasties and provide an alternative to the established parties,” the source said, adding that these parties had all “bought into” the EU/IMF deal.

The source stressed that, while a decision had been taken not to contest the general election, the Democracy Now movement would continue. “It’s still there. We haven’t stopped it.”

Fintan O’Toole wrote in yesterday’s Irish Times about his decision not to contest the general election, mentioning David McWilliams, but not the new movement. “I am not ashamed of having tried, but I would be ashamed of having done it badly. I’m sure that the decision not to lead people on with false hopes is the right one and I have no intention of revisiting that decision,” he said.

January 30, 2011