Friday 9 December 2016

2016 Ones to watch: Lucinda's make-or-break year with fledgling party

Lucinda Creighton, politician

Published 03/01/2016 | 02:30

Clash: Will Lucinda Creighton's conservatism put her at loggerheads with some of the Dublin 4 constituents.
Clash: Will Lucinda Creighton's conservatism put her at loggerheads with some of the Dublin 4 constituents.

This will be a make-or-break year in the political career of Lucinda Creighton as she goes into an election with her new party, Renua, for the first time.

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The party, which has its origins in Fine Gael, seems highly likely to play a significant part in the formation of the next government.

When it comes to forming governments, leaders tend to go for coalition allies from their own political gene pool, and Enda Kenny is likely to be no exception to that rule after the next election.

There could easily be two scenarios where Creighton would play a pivotal role, assuming that her party manages to win a few seats.

Fine Gael could perform extremely well, but just fall short of a majority. In this scenario, Kenny's former comrades in Renua could hold the balance of power, with Creighton providing enough support to get the Taoiseach over the line.

Creighton would then be guaranteed a cabinet post and it would be more senior than her previous junior posting as Minister for Europe.

In another scenario, if Fine Gael drops sharply in support but is still ahead of the other parties, Creighton could be part of a patchwork rainbow coalition of Fine Gael and smaller parties.

A Fine Gael-Renua rapprochement does not just seem likely because of Dáil arithmetic; Creighton still sometimes talks ruefully as if the bigger party is still her spiritual home.

It is as if Fine Gael left her, rather than her leaving the party.

When she lost the party whip two years ago, Creighton underlined her commitment to the Blueshirt cause: "This is the party I have worked for unstintingly since I was 18 years old."

For a leader of an opposition party, she often seems constrained in putting the boot into the Taoiseach.

Creighton and several other Fine Gael Oireachtas members got on the wrong side of their party in summer 2013 over the Government's Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act.

She and several others lost the party whip when they voted against legislation to liberalise abortion laws.

The abortion issue will be up for debate again next year, with further proposals to liberalise the abortion laws in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities.

It is highly significant that this time out Fine Gael TDs will be given a free vote.

Creighton's husband, Senator Paul Bradford, also a Renua candidate, remarked in November that it was "unfortunate" that Kenny took so long to allow TDs to vote with their conscience.

In other words, if a free vote had been allowed in 2013, Creighton and her colleagues would not have broken away and formed Renua.

The creation of the new party is seen by TDs in both parties as being simply down to a mistake on Kenny's part, and he won't want to repeat it.

Creighton's party has high hopes of winning at least four seats in the General Election - but believes that with a fair wind, its representation could stretch to as many as seven. The past experience of another small party, the Progressive Democrats (in effect a splinter group formed out of Fianna Fáil), shows how a handful of TDs can easily hold the balance of power, and exercise considerable influence.

In fact, Creighton once claimed to have been an admirer of PD founder Des O'Malley at the age of 10, and to have recognised the roguery of Charles Haughey at that tender age.

She said once in an interview: "I remember when Dessie O'Malley went into coalition with Haughey, I was disgusted."

Creighton has expressed confidence that her party will perform better than its poll rating, which has hovered at around 2pc since it was launched.

"We have only had one electoral contest, in Carlow-Kilkenny, and in that contest we achieved 10pc of the vote, so I think that the figure we are seeing in national polls doesn't really reflect where we are," she said.

Creighton is an accomplished media performer who brings a refreshing candour to the Dáil. But despite her promises to create a new kind of politics, Renua does not seem to have many other powerful personalities capable of giving its policies national prominence.

One of the few big-ticket items on Renua's policy agenda to have made an impact is its proposal to apply the same 23pc flat tax to everyone.

Creighton argues that the Universal Social Charge, different income tax rates, and employers' PRSI should all be scrapped in favour of one flat rate.

It would be phased in over a three-year period for everyone, including those on social welfare.

Creighton said the new tax proposals were a game-changer for the Irish people.

But her Fianna Fáil constituency rival Jim O'Callaghan said it was "an economically illiterate proposal favoured only by eccentrics and the super-rich".

Renua sometimes seems to present a hotch potch of different conservative policies, rather than a coherent ideology.

Its candidate for Cavan-Monaghan, Mary Smyth, recently had to step down after she described the Vatican as "the Antichrist" and "corrupt, riddled with gay sex and adoration of wealth".

Creighton's own conservatism on some issues may place her at loggerheads with many of her liberal Dublin 4 constituents.

She set off a storm of protest on social media before the last election when she opposed same-sex marriage while supporting civil partnerships.

"I think marriage is primarily about children, main purpose being to propagate & create environment for children to grow up," Creighton said at the time on Twitter.

However, her social conservatism did not stop her topping the poll, as she won one of two Fine Gael seats in Dublin South-East in 2011, and since then she has changed her tune on same-sex marriage, announcing that she was voting Yes in last year's referendum.

Her high profile and willingness to speak her mind is likely to get her over the line again in the constituency renamed Dublin Bay South.

Creighton party's performance and the plight of other parties such as Labour will determine whether she regains high office after the election.

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