Odds stacked against a new farmers’ party

Many Independents are unlikely to give up control over their own vote

The Independent Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice has indicated that he will try to set up a “rural party” with a view to taking part in or supporting a government in the Dáil after the next election.

Fitzmaurice, an Independent TD since 2014 who has been closely identified with the interests of turf cutters and other rural causes, says he intends to approach people with a view to setting up the new party in time to field candidates at the next election, expected late next year or early 2025. He is a strong critic of the Green Party, and reckons that a new party could provide a coalition option for the bigger parties, effectively replacing the Greens in their current role.

You can see the temptation: the Greens, with their bloc of 12 votes, were able to negotiate hard and secure the agreement of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for a programme for government with a very strong climate action element, including many policies that backbenchers in the two larger parties – especially those from rural constituencies – are deeply suspicious of. Fitzmaurice reckons they could be replaced by a bloc of TDs dedicated to the interests of farmers and rural residents, thus giving farming concerns the same priority that the environment and climate action currently has.

There are, however, several reasons for caution and some to suggest that the prospects of success are slim.


For a start, setting up a new party is very hard. It’s not impossible – the Social Democrats have developed a niche and Peadar Tóibín’s Aontú have established a foothold and survived. But Renua, the vehicle set up by former Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton, sank. A scatter of new entities formed in the tumult of the post-crash years never really got off the ground.

Secondly, there are already a lot of rural TDs not aligned to the main parties so the question is, would they join a new farmers/rural party? Fitzmaurice will argue that the agenda of the new party would be closely aligned with the existing Independents, but a parliamentary existence within a party is very different to that of an Independent.

For a start you are subject to the whip system – join the army, wear the boots. A group of Independents has very limited negotiating powers because ultimately each TD maintains control over his or her own vote, and that’s it. This became evident during the Fine Gael-Independent minority government that held power between 2016 and 2020. Neither the Independents who served in that government nor Fine Gael did especially well out of the arrangement.

With a party of even moderate size comes political clout. But it comes at the price of the participants’ independence. There is very little to suggest that the likes of the Healy-Raes, Michael Lowry or Mattie McGrath would be willing to accept that trade-off. It would represent stepping outside what has been a successful political model for them.

There are three groups of Independents in the Dáil – the rural independents, the regional independents and the “independent independents” – with 20 Independent TDs between them. The enduring role of Independents is one of the unusual quirks of Irish politics. Their electoral success suggests that many voters like it, and it is sufficiently well-established to assume it will continue.

Thirdly, there are many different types of farmers, and fewer of them than before. The Farmers Party of the 1920s mainly represented bigger farmers and was conservative and Fine Gael-y in outlook. The Farmers Party, Clann na Talmhan, of the 1930s and 1940s drew its support form the smaller, poorer farmers of the west, and – initially anyway – was more radical in its outlook.

Nowadays there are about 135,000 farms, with workers representing about 7 per cent of the workforce. The number of farms has dropped by 60 per cent in the last 100 years.

Fitzmaurice is not promising to stand at the head of a major new force in Irish politics; he is seeking pull together a disparate group for an uncertain defence. It is not, by any standards, a compelling offer.