Canny Creighton keeping cards close to her chest
Lucinda says meeting won't lead to political party just yet but others are not so sure, writes Daniel McConnell, Political Correspondent
The Reform Alliance's Lucinda Creighton said that yesterday's 'monster meeting' will not lead to the formation of a new political party, but immediately qualified herself by saying "at the moment".
She said that the attendance at the one-day conference at the RDS in Dublin "exceeded all expectations".
The former Fine Gael European Affairs Minister insisted that the group was not looking at becoming a new political party "at the moment", adding that the conference was nothing more than a "listening exercise".
"It's just not something we're focusing on at all at the moment. We are really trying to talk about new politics, and not new parties," she said.
Yet, the image of the Reform Alliance will not be helped as two of the loudest rounds of applause at their conference was when the group's opposition to last year's abortion legislation was raised. Lucinda sought to play down the significance of such applause, saying that abortion "barely came up in discussions" during the day.
"The people admire us, even if they didn't agree with us on the abortion legislation. They admire us for the fact we honoured a commitment, we paid the price, we were expelled from our political party. I don't have a difficulty with people holding pro-life opinions given I hold those opinions myself," she said.
She angrily criticised The Irish Times for attacking the group's stance on abortion, accusing it of having an agenda.
"I've had my religious beliefs announced for me by the newspaper actually, my alleged religious beliefs actually. I don't really think people should speak for me and my colleagues. I think it's concerned that perhaps we mightn't fit into their agenda," she said.
She added that she was not worried that former colleagues in Fine Gael have been highly critical of the group.
"As David McWilliams said, there are three stages. The first stage is where people laugh at you and completely dismiss you. The next stage is when people sneer at you and try to undermine you and we've had plenty of that in the last few weeks and we expect that to continue but I suppose it's a sign that maybe people are a little bit worried," she said.
Despite Creighton's comments, other members of the group, senators Paul Bradford and Fidelma Healy Eames, were talking up the prospects of forming a party.
"There is an appetite for change, there is an appetite for bringing new ideas. I don't know what the future holds but the conference delivered what it said on the tin, and we are going to work from here," Bradford said.
Healy Eames said the hundreds of people in attendance had expressed an interest in becoming part of a "movement of reform".
"Let's face it. As De Gaulle said, 'the people get the history they deserve'. If we want change, we have to do something different. If we keep doing the same things, nothing changes."
The assembled crowd of 1,350 was made up of many pro-life figures, including Wendy Grace, as well as curious disaffected voters. High-profile attendees were thin on the ground but independent TD Mattie McGrath, Fine Gael senator Ronan Mullen, councillor Bill Tormey and former Fianna Fail national executive member Jerry Beades were present.
During the final session on economic reform, celebrity economist McWilliams described how Ireland's middle class have "gone bust" and it is these disaffected voters the alliance would want to attract if it was to have a future.
Eddie Molloy, the public sector critic and expert, said the alliance must offer a new culture of politics or else "they have asked people to come here on false pretenses".
Members of the Alliance said they agreed with Molloy's assessment and said tackling that culture was their big challenge.
Top Tory strategist Philip Blond has claimed the Reform Alliance is poised to take advantage of middle class discontent in Ireland and become a major political force.
The strategist claimed the Reform Alliance had broken out of the pro-life straitjacket and possessed the potential to become a party of government after the next election.
He cited the rise of UKIP as an example of how parties could grow out of nowhere.
Broadcasters Tom McGurk and Olivia O'Leary held a discussion on political reform, which was followed by a lively discussion involving delegates.
The conference was opened by Wicklow TD and Alliance member Billy Timmins, who paid tribute to the late Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe.
"This is a great country capable of producing great deeds. And today we particularly remember the late Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe, whose first anniversary occurs. We want to remember him today," Timmins said.
The Reform Alliance also secured a very public vote of confidence from the high-profile Euro-sceptic Declan Ganley.
Ganley, the former Libertas leader, who was unable to make the meeting because of a prior commitment, was strongly supportive of the event.
He told the Sunday Independent: ''I welcome it, it should be productive; this is a necessary first and very positive step, they are in listening mode. If I was free, I would be there and I would be listening."