So what's the point of voting for another identikit party?
Published 01/01/2014 | 02:30
Other than a love of spouting meaningless banalities about the need for unspecified change and reform . . . what does the Reform Alliance stand for?
WHY are we so convinced that we need a new political party when no one knows what it will stand for?
One of the biggest political stories of 2013 was the enactment of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill and the fallout for Fine Gael from the historic legislation.
The party lost five TDs, including junior minister Lucinda Creighton, and two senators, with all but one opting to join a new coalition of expelled members, The Reform Alliance.
While the group has remained cagey on whether it will form a new political party, it has just registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission as a "third party" to allow it raise funds for political research.
Meanwhile, the 'Sunday Independent' has reported that Independent TD Stephen Donnelly has held talks with Creighton and they are "at one" in their views about political and economic reform.
"There is most undoubtedly a need for a new party, the current system is so old, stale and so badly in need of reform," explained Donnelly.
Sounds great doesn't it? A thrusting new young party to enter the political fray and shake up the cosy-consensus politics that has come to dominate Leinster House.
But, other than a love of spouting meaningless banalities about the need for unspecified change and reform in the political system, what does the Reform Alliance stand for?
Where does it stand on economic issues? With none of its members voting against the Government on any money bill, can we assume that they support the Government's economic policies?
What about social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage? We know that the members have a very conservative attitude to abortion but does this conservatism also seep into other areas?
It appears so. Ms Creighton has previously stated that she is against gay marriage and another member, Fidelma Healy Eames, has railed against the "scale and pace" of social legislation undertaken by the Government.
"Labour has been given free rein to remake Irish society. From abortion to gay marriage and gay adoption, nothing appears to be off the social change menu," she wrote at the weekend.
Of course, this analysis of the alleged sweeping social changes instigated by the Labour Party ignores the fact that abortion legislation merely codified a legal position that has existed for more than 20 years; that a Fine Gael minister, Alan Shatter, will introduce same-sex adoption in new family law legislation this year; and the people will democratically decide on the issue of gay marriage in a referendum in 2015.
As far as "remaking Irish society" goes, it's a pretty weak attempt, even though the Labour Party would love to claim credit.
Can we then conclude that what the Reform Alliance is offering us is a kind of turbo-charged Fine Gael -- just as economically liberal but far more conservative on social issues?
And, with Fianna Fail already providing a home for extreme pro-life views, is there enough support for this kind of social conservatism to warrant a new political party?
Is there even enough support for those views in Creighton's constituency, Dublin South East, one of the most liberal in the country, to ensure that she will retain her seat at the next election?
Her constituents may respect her principled stand on the abortion issue, but if her principles don't accord with their own, then why would they continue to vote for her?
The problem with Irish politics is not that there are not enough parties, but that all of them espouse the same views, with virtually no ideological differences evident in their policies.
THIS problem was unwittingly encapsulated by Reform Alliance member Peter Mathews when he responded that he was "not fussy about the jersey I wear" when asked if he was considering running for Fianna Fail in the forthcoming European elections.
It was an astounding statement for a politician to make. Political party membership is supposed to act as a cue for voters, a shortcut to tell them broadly what kind of policies, left or right, one holds.
If political party membership is of no consequence, it implies that there are no real policy differences at all -- political parties, although ostensibly different, are actually indistinguishable from each other.
This has disastrous implications for democracy because voters, when they go to the polls, aren't really given a choice at all.
The faces around the cabinet table may ultimately change but the policies remain the same. So, what's the point in voting?
The Reform Alliance may tout its reform agenda but what real evidence do we have that it represents anything except more of the same?
And what is the point of yet another identikit political party, spouting the same tired platitudes as everybody else but offering no real change underneath all of the rhetoric?