Monday 5 December 2016

We're all to blame for disastrous Renua election campaign

After going from four Oireachtas members to none, Billy Timmins looks at where it all went wrong for the party

Billy Timmins

Published 01/05/2016 | 02:30

FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE: Renua deputies Terence Flanagan, Lucinda Creighton and Billy Timmins at a Renua press briefing at Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE: Renua deputies Terence Flanagan, Lucinda Creighton and Billy Timmins at a Renua press briefing at Leinster House, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

By virtually every measurement, the General Election was a disaster for Renua. We entered the fray with four Oireachtas members and left with none. We had hopes for others but these were not realised. Where did it all go wrong?

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Reviews can be easy and we will always be wiser tomorrow than we are today. Responsibility must rest with those of us who had political experience. Where there is criticism I am equally to blame as the next and as a collective, we got much wrong.

In the beginning I felt that much of the criticism we received was unfair, but at this remove I now realise that much was justified. Simplicity is a key in selling any product or message. Our pre-launch posed far more questions than answers. Every political party or movement has a vision and values that don't require a visit to the thesaurus. We had four guiding principles that were complicated and almost impossible to remember. This vacuum left a new entity open to a branding by others and there was no shortage of unfriendly volunteers willing to take up the passive offer.

A large number of volunteers carried out an amazing amount of work in the face of many disadvantages. No access to funding was a major handicap. The pre-launch errors by Renua were not fatal. We still had a group of people who wanted to do good. We would be tolerant, positive and explore ways that could make things better. Nothing new there, but in our case we meant it.

For many, Renua was born out of the expulsion of Fine Gael members who voted against legislation for abortion. For my part it was a human rights issue. Many commentators tied the decision to the Catholic Church and sought to paint Renua as such. As a result we were not short of enemies. Others who may not have agreed with our position did admire the fact someone did stand for something.

There was a perceived clamour for a new political party and Renua unveiled in early March 2015. It took a lot of effort, time and sacrifice. However, as hope and enthusiasm abounded, flaws had already taken root.

The name was professionally sourced and the intention was to conjure an image of renewal and a new era. However, in our case we did not have the funding to support a marketing of the name and once again it was left to others to brand us.

On launch night, Party Leader Lucinda Creighton and Party President Eddie Hobbs would appear on The Late Late Show. We sent a mixed message to over half a million viewers. We were pro-life and pro-choice. What may have been a conviction was becoming something we wanted to dissociate from. In particular, social conservatives were confused as to where we stood on social matters. In the end, they saw Fianna Fail as a safer bet.

We also used the platform to tell over 300,000 public servants, their relatives and friends that we would not restore public sector pay. Many people, including public servants, were and still are suffering economic hardship. It wasn't our finest hour. This reinforced a growing view that Renua was anti-public sector. In time we would produce a policy on public pay and reform that I believe will be accepted and become the norm. However, this did not stop union direction to its members that Renua was no friend. Empathy is an essential ingredient in politics - on occasion we failed to demonstrate this.

Some really good policies were produced but they never registered. Some in the media had decided we were to the right of Fine Gael, whatever that means. Others saw us as a prop for Fine Gael, while most in Fine Gael viewed us as enemy number one. I can only assume there was a basis of sorts for these assumptions. There were a few, but only a few, in the media who held an ideological bias against us. We were influenced by a few in our response and we developed a siege mentality. When we get elected we are happy to take the plaudits. When we fail we look to find a scapegoat. There was a collective failure in Renua.

In an ironic twist, Renua got over 2pc of the national vote and now qualify for State funding. Can Renua have a role in the future?

I don't subscribe to the "be radical or redundant" theory. Irish people, in the main, are "steady as she goes". We are more meat and two veg than risotto.

Was the journey pleasant? Not really. The destination wasn't in the plans. Life is too short and I have decided to move on. To shake off baggage others will also have to do so. Renua Ireland's day may come and it would be a shame if it was not there at that time.

Billy Timmins was Deputy Leader of Renua Ireland

Sunday Independent

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