It is an accepted truth that parties are the central political actors in all liberal democracies. This dominance of parties is often considered the logical outcome of rational politicians attempts to maximize their utility in terms of votes and policy influence. However, the last 20 years have seen a number of significant Independent (that is, non-party) actors emerge in more than a few political systems. From an actor-centred point of view, party affiliation can, depending on the particular environment, be rather a liability than an advantage, which has significant implications for the role of non-party actors in face of weakening party democracies. To show this point, we deliver an account of the rise of Independents in the Irish political system, opposed to the dominant scholarly perspective that tends to consider Independents as an idiosyncrasy. We show that the choice of organizational independence over party affiliation represents a reaction to incentives inherent in the electoral, parliamentary and governmental stages that can disfavour party as the most efficient vehicle for individual goal attainment. This becomes evident when avoiding the misleading comparison between parties as collective bodies with that of Independents as individuals, instead focusing on the respective strategic positions of the individual MPs.Comparative European Politics (2009) 7, 299-324. doi:10.1057/cep.2008.21.