Lucinda to create a 'new movement for ideas' in the Dail
Lucinda Creighton does not rule out being Fine Gael's first female leader, but her current energies are going towards forming a new technical group, she tells John Drennan
Published 25/08/2013 | 05:00
AS LEINSTER House basks in a rare silly season truce, many eyes are focused on the future plans of Fine Gael's enfant terrible Lucinda Creighton.
Is she going to form a new political party or is she waiting patiently for the forgiveness of a benevolent Enda Kenny?
The Sunday Independent today finds out what Lucinda plans to do next, what she really thinks of the state of democracy and whether she will she miss those tete-a tetes with the Taoiseach on the government jet.
John Drennan: "Now that the abortion debate is over, is it a case of 'je ne regrette rien'?"
Lucinda Creighton: "You took the words out of my mouth. No, I am totally at ease. I don't believe in breaking promises in politics or in life. We have stuck by what the party said, what I said we would do before the election."
JD: "But you could have been in Cabinet, you could have been Fine Gael's first female leader, all this is gone?"
LC: "I still don't rule that out. I don't believe my political career or prospects are damaged at all. I don't believe it is always the case that the only way to advance in politics is to go with the flow and not question anything."
JD: "So you're hoping a benevolent Enda may yet forgive you?"
LC: "I'm not seeking forgiveness from Enda Kenny or anyone else. The people who matter politically speaking are the citizens, the voters, my supporters. No one politician can supersede the will of the people, no matter how invincible they currently think themselves to be. The only people who can decide my future are the voters."
JD: "Still, you must miss your little tete-a-tetes on the government jet?"
LC: "I'm very happy to be reunited with my husband and my dogs. Sorry now, but the very idea that you would miss chats with Enda Kenny, [laughter] I don't think so."
JD: "So you intend to continue in politics?"
LC: "I'm tired of hearing various secret spokespersons from Fine Gael speculating I'm tired of politics, I'm going to leave politics, I'm going home to be a housewife, being leaked to certain political correspondents."
JD: "For now, the lady's not for turning?"
LC: "I'm more determined than ever. I feel a real sense of responsibility. I've been campaigning for so long over how politics is dysfunctional, how parliament, which I am a member of, is dysfunctional. I have strong views on it and if I don't fight to change the system from within, who is going to do it? I feel a responsibility and I have one shot at it."
JD: "Have you had a response to your departure?"
LC: "People are contacting me, day in, day out, totally disillusioned with the system, looking for change. After I voted against the legislation, I received 10,000 emails in a couple of days, I haven't been able to respond to them all, contact by phone, Facebook, Twitter, traditional old-style messages by letter, people contacting me expressing disbelief I would give up a job for a principle. My colleagues, Terence Flanagan, Brian Walsh, others, all have had the same."
JD: "So do you see this as evidence of a desire for change that is not being fulfilled?"
LC: "I do, that's not just me saying that. The problem is there is no good reason why Fine Gael can't be the vehicle for that change. That's what I've always worked for internally. Enda promised a democratic revolution, now we have the Chief Whip Paul Kehoe saying the track record for political reform in this administration has been deplorable.
I still hope Fine Gael would try to deliver on the reform we promised. If we don't, the Irish public will lose all confidence."
JD: "So do you think the window of opportunity for this Government is disappearing?"
LC: "We've already wasted a lot of time and missed a lot of opportunities; time is running out."
JD: "Circumstances are changing within the Dail, particularly on the independent benches. Do you see yourself forming alliances with other independents outside the Fine Gael six?"
LC: "I don't think I would have much in common with Mick and Ming but those of us who are like-minded are co-ordinating and will continue to co-ordinate our tactics. We are seeking technical group status. We are all really on the same page. We see a big need to push for change in the Dail."
JD: "You have six and you need seven – are you open to new entrants such as Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly?"
LC: "Of course, there are independents who have similar views to us. There are other independents too. There are those on the Left that I respect; Roisin Shortall is very honourable, very straight, very intelligent. I think she is one of the best TDs in the Dail."
JD: "Are you planning to set up a new political party with Michael McDowell?"
JD: "But, are you considering him as a legal or political adviser?"
LC: "No, we have many advisers, legal and all sorts, we have no shortage of advisers, plenty of them."
JD: So what was that meeting with McDowell, you just being mischievous?"
LC: "We were in the barristers' tea room, I was meeting someone else and we stumbled across Michael, and a very pleasant and enjoyable and gossipy afternoon ensued. We did discuss politics, that being a common interest."
JD: "Do you not see a need for a new party, given the existential lack of faith revealed in the recent Sunday Independent poll?"
LC: "Billy Timmins has put down a motion on the order paper to set up a technical group and we are all supportive of that. We recognise there is a need to create a space where new ideas can flourish. New ideas are not welcome in Irish politics, they are seen as a threat, a negative thing, the culture of 'put up and shut up' is all pervasive. This is where I see a big opportunity in the Dail, not a new political party, but to create a new movement for ideas. We have a lot of people volunteering, no strings attached, to put new ideas across and we intend to do that. There is a massive appetite for change, that's reflected in that 37 per cent."
JD: "Are you expecting new members in your 'technical group'?
LC: "On balance, the likelihood is there will be more. I don't wish that to happen but it is possible. Mind you, in politics, you don't know. A lot of people who said they would leave over abortion managed to somehow hang on."
JD: "Do you think Enda will welcome this new politics of thought?"
LC: "I hope he will appreciate we have a role and a job. There are 166 TDs here, far too many, but we are all elected on the same basis. We all have the same right and duty to represent our constituents and the idea that because a few of us decided to honour our election pledges, that we would be excluded from formal speaking rights, is preposterous. We cannot speak on leaders' questions, on priority questions, we can't even be members of committees or draft private members motions."
JD: "If Enda says no, will it be a case of going to the courts?"
LC: "Then we will have to reflect. It is not my intention to stand idly by. My point stands – we have a duty to represent the people."
JD: "So what will you do if the democratic revolution doesn't come by 2014 or 2015?"
LC: "If you're asking me to predict whether we will be setting something up in 2014 or 2015, I cannot. It is not something we are contemplating right now. There's a lot of ifs. Speculation on what may occur in a year's time is not useful or helpful to our purpose, which is to create a new political momentum, to deal with our existential crisis. I wish to give that every possible opportunity."
JD: "But if there is no democratic revolution, won't that put you under pressure?"
LC: "I'm great under pressure, so don't worry about it."
JD: "When you talk about creating the space for a politics of ideas, how does the abolition of the Seanad serve this?"
LC: "I spent two-and-a-half years as a minister and my absolute experience was that the quality of debate was 30 times better than the Dail. I haven't waded into the debate because my husband is a senator and my views could be informed by that. The optics, though, are bad. Democracy in Ireland is flawed. Indeed, I fear that democracy is more flawed in Ireland than in any of the EU countries I travelled to as a minister. Or, at least most of them. People should be seriously concerned about the dysfunctionality of our parliament and I don't think that will be improved by the abolition of the Seanad."