Thursday 20 June 2019

Taxpayers have given Renua €735k so far - now it hasn't got one single councillor

Left party: Former leader of Renua Ireland John Leahy said the party lacked a national platform to promote its message. Photo: Mark Condren
Left party: Former leader of Renua Ireland John Leahy said the party lacked a national platform to promote its message. Photo: Mark Condren
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

At the launch of Renua Ireland just over four years ago, its founder Lucinda Creighton said the party would be "different in absolutely every respect to the old way of doing business".

Alongside her, financial guru Eddie Hobbs said "Ireland as we know it is gone" and that Renua was "the beginning of the first Irish open political party".

The third person on stage that day was a politician who had no profile outside of his native Offaly, John Leahy.

Leahy was supposed to bring a rural balance to a party that even before its inception faced accusations of being too urban.

There was huge excitement about the idea of Creighton, a former minister for European affairs, taking on then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the hustings.

Much was made out of the potential that either Kenny or Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin could find themselves knocking on her door looking for a coalition. But Renua faced numerous problems from the start. For one, Fine Gael was determined to kick Creighton at every turn.

She gave its door a good kick when she quit the party over her opposition to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in 2013.

This led her to form a loose 'Reform Alliance', which by early 2015 became 'Reboot Ireland'. Among the ranks were fellow ex-Fine Gael TDs Billy Timmons and Terence Flanagan.

They always insisted the party was much more than an anti-abortion group but many struggled to move past that basic question.

On the day of the big launch, Flanagan had what party sources described as a "meltdown" during an excruciating interview with RTÉ Radio. He was unable to complete answers and cut off some answers mid-sentence.

It quickly became apparent that Renua's fortunes were tied directly to Creighton. She was the star performer. It made it very difficult to get the other election candidates into the national media.

The 2016 General Election was a disaster. Renua failed to get a single candidate elected, including Creighton, but by a quirk of our election rules the party did qualify for lucrative State funding.

As a result of achieving 2.66pc of the national vote, the party is entitled to €258,596 a year in State funding for the duration of this Dáil.

Yet Creighton decided to quickly move on, describing setting up a political party as a "remarkable journey".

Leahy stepped up as leader, taking a healthy €65,000 annual salary from the party's new-found wealth, in addition to his pay as a councillor of around €16,000.

He set about trying to motivate new candidates ahead of the local elections. Members took a strong pro-life stance during the repeal the Eighth referendum.

On justice, they argued there had been a "rush to 'understand' and be fair to the criminal". They believed in tax cuts.

But they couldn't get traction and ultimately Leahy was the only one of 27 candidates to win a seat in the local elections, albeit with a poll-topping performance.

He has already struck a deal to support Fianna Fáil that saw him voted Leas Cathaoirleach of Offaly County Council for the next 12 months.

And he still intends to fight the next general election as an independent.

Asked about his decision to leave Renua, he told the Irish Independent: "The background is that I was a manager over a team that prepared for three years for an election and we got nobody elected.

"Do I spend another two or three years at it? I haven't made an impression in three years. Maybe the message I have is not the change that people want."

He argues that Renua's policies aren't wrong but are very difficult to articulate nationally without a TD or household name at the helm.

"I would say people understand Renua in Offaly because I'm in the chamber and covered in the local newspaper. But we needed that at national level. We would have made more strides," he said.

The search for a new leader to reboot the party again will not be easy. Presidential runner-up Peter Casey has been speculated upon in the past. Regardless, the taxpayer funding has reached €735,000 and continues to grow.

Irish Independent

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