Independent voice for agriculture could be a good thing

As Fianna Fail and Fine Gael try continue to try woo enough independent TDs in an effort to put forward some sort of ‘stable’ Government offering, it looks increasingly likely that the next Minister for Agriculture could be an independent politician.

With 23 seats of the current Dail being held by independent candidates, they hold as many as Sinn Fein but possess a more viable alternative to the two main parties.

The independent alliance which includes Roscommon-South Leitrim TD Michael Fitzmaurice has met with both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael since the election result threw up no obvious coalition.

Now we’re left with the possibility that a significant portion of any future Government will be independent TDs, who will, no doubt, want just reward for their support. And that quite likely to come in the form of the role of Minister for Agriculture.

Rural Ireland and issues of crime, lack of employment and care for the elderly have all featured in manifestos as well as the general feeling that Dublin has forgotten its rural neighbours. While there has been talk of a minister for rural affairs, it would make more sense that the Minister for Agriculture role will be just that, and that the Defence portfolio would be removed to allow the Minister take a wider remit to include rural affairs.

But, who the next Minister for Agriculture will be remains to be seen and it’s quite possibly they won’t be either a Fine Gael or Fianna Fail minister. The last time an independent held the office was James Dillon (1948-51), although Dillon was only on a hiatus from Fine Gael over Ireland’s neutrality stance, before he rejoined the party in 1952.

Interestingly, Dillon had strong family links to Roscommon, where two potential independent candidates for the role – Denis Naughten and Michael Fitzmaurice – hail from.

A Minister whose election ticket has been rural issues could be what rural Ireland wants, but whether they will have the experience to deliver will depend on who that independent candidate is. However, selling out the post to secure political agreement would benefit no one in the long term.