News Comment

Friday 19 September 2014

Lucinda still 
to decide on her party piece

Despite all the publicity we are still none the wiser about the true agenda for the Reform Alliance.

Emer O'Kelly

Published 27/07/2014 | 02:30

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Lucinda Creighton in Glenties

The MacGill Summer School, a political talk-in (oh, how they talk!) held annually at Glenties in Co Donegal receives a great deal of news coverage. At least, that is how the coverage is described. But very little news comes out of it, and the coverage might be regarded by a cynic as being more a space-filling boon for the media in a month when the journalistic silly season is getting into full swing.

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A considerable amount of space, for instance, has been devoted this week to Lucinda Creighton, the Independent TD for Dublin South East and former Junior Minister for European Affairs, who addressed the gathering on the issue of political transparency and support for "the European Dream".

What she said was fairly close to being identical to a speech she made in the Dail recently, when she accused the Taoiseach of being "ungentlemanly and scurrilous" in his remarks about what she called her "concerns for transparency and serving Ireland's national interests."

But she got coverage - plenty of it.

She was pursued by journalists, desperate for something newsworthy concerning the possibility of the Reform Alliance becoming a full political party, and launching as such.

But what Ms Creighton said in answer to the speculation was: "We are going to have to make decisions."

She's been saying that since being kicked out of Fine Gael for refusing to honour the party's pre-election manifesto on legislation for the X Case. She also said, as she has been saying for months, that people need to "start thinking about getting organised" as nobody can predict when the next general election will be.

Earth-shattering stuff, or publicity seeking posturing, depending on how you see it. But she did not even say anything as definite as the fact that the local and European elections have proved that people in Ireland do want a new political party. And they want it to be radical, not just another mix of the same whatever-you're-having-yourself. Which, so far, is all the Reform Alliance is offering.

It needs to have the courage of its own right-wing convictions, which would at least give the electorate the chance to force both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail to acknowledge, possibly even abandon, their own catch-all attempts at centre-ism; just as it would force Labour to acknowledge that Sinn Fein is attempting - and occasionally succeeding - in the theft of Labour's socialist clothes.

Even the speculation during the week in Glenties that the former Progressive Democrat minister for justice and party leader Michael McDowell might join a new Creighton-led party was not new. All that can be said for his putative addition to the mix is that he is probably rather more to the right in social terms than those already in the alliance, in contrast to the previous leaders of the PDs.

Yet in defence of the European project - presumably something which would be part of her new party's platform - Ms Creighton said she rejected the "Eurosceptic mantra" that was about to steal our rights and force us into "monocultural conformity".

"She simply did not recognise the Europe" spoken of by David Cameron and the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, she said . . . and went on to praise Margaret Thatcher as "never isolating" Britain in Europe.

Lady Thatcher an enthusiastic European? And lumping David Cameron into the same sentence with the mouth-foaming English nationalist Farage shows a very poor understanding of British politics from a potential leader of a national party here.

She then went on to attack "cronyism" and called for a politics that is "more honest, less cynical and more transparent". She seemed to forget that she joined Fine Gael as a student in 2000, many years prior to the Electoral Amendment (Political Funding) Act of 2012, which limits and requires declarations of political donations.

Fine Gael had debts of nearly £1.5m in 1990, a debt which cost £628,000 just to service, but when John Bruton became leader - and subsequently Taoiseach in 1994 - he and Michael Lowry, who Bruton appointed minister for enterprise, began a fund-raising drive which included a donation of £150,000 from the former supermarket boss Ben Dunne, £50,000 of which Bruton called to Dunne's home to collect in person.

And a fundraiser to "meet the new Taoiseach" in early 1994, in the Burlington Hotel was attended by 1,200 people and raised €150,000.

Such fundraising, which was later to get Fianna Fail into justified trouble, ensured Fine Gael was reputed to have had a war chest of €2.25m when it set out to fight the 2011 General Election. And Ms Creighton had been a TD in the party since 2007. There was little enough transparency around in the Fine Gael ranks during those years. But it was not the lack of it which put Ms Creighton outside its ranks.

That was down to a refusal to vote for a measure which had been part of the Fine Gael electoral manifesto. It was only when the party moved to deliver on that election promise that Ms Creighton began to have trouble with her conscience.

Yet this week she was forthright in her criticism of the Government's failure to deliver on its election promises.
So it would begin to seem that what is envisaged for the new party, if it emerges, is a lot of promises to stamp out cronyism and introduce transparent politics - promised by every party since ancient Greece. Other than that, the Reform Alliance seems to be dependent on attracting a lot of people who have a vague belief in their own single issues, and if the party manifesto fails to include them, they are likely to disappear into the mist.

And the Alliance will return to an existence based on a single issue: opposition to abortion, which was how it began. Not merely will that not deliver an ideology which could change the political scene in Ireland, it is unlikely to deliver enough TDs to be able to claim speaking rights in the Dail.

Sunday Independent

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