Monday 22 July 2019

Welcome Renua Ireland - but Ross alliance is more radical

If Lucinda and Shane agreed a voting pact ahead of election, they could sweep to power, says Jody Corcoran

Mary Harney and Michael McDowell at a PD national conference - Renua are anxious to avoid comparisons with the now-defunct party
Mary Harney and Michael McDowell at a PD national conference - Renua are anxious to avoid comparisons with the now-defunct party
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

Michael McDowell coined the phrase "radical or redundant" to measure the relevance or otherwise of the Progressive Democrats. For 15 years the PDs were genuinely radical but the party failed to evolve or lost sight of its radical credentials for much of the Celtic Tiger era.

As a result, the party has been deemed a failure and is branded with the excess of an age, a bit part in a numbers game which sustained Fianna Fail in power. In the round, history will be kinder; but the ultimate demise of the PDs can be put down to the loss of its radical raison d'etre.

Now Renua Ireland has emerged in its own right, determined to avoid comparison with the PDs, more so than with Fine Gael from which it took flight. Hot on its heels - next weekend - will come a more loosely formed alliance under the titular heads of Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice.

The emergence of both party and alliance is to be warmly welcomed: if the armchair critics and keyboard gurriers feel they can do better, they are free to try. Among other things, Michael McDowell was criticised for his view of inequality, the knee-jerk response to which came to define the party as hard right-wing.

He said: "Inequality is an inevitable part of the society of incentives that Ireland has become."

The criticism centred on his view that inequality was inevitable when it should have related to the "society of incentives" that Ireland had become, which set the country on a ruinous path.

Some measure of inequality can be good for an economy, to sharpen incentives for hard work and reward innovators who drive economic progress.

But inequality has reached a stage where it has become inefficient and bad for growth. In his own way, intended or not, McDowell had identified the issue - inequality - which will determine the success or failure of Renua Ireland and the Ross/Fitzmaurice alliance.

The growing level of inequality has become a threat to Ireland's economic recovery.

Analysis by the Nevin Institute last week, that 25pc of employees earn an hourly wage of less than the 'living wage' of €11.45, puts the recovery

in context. At the core of this issue is a failure of ideas, as the Economist magazine identified several years ago. That is, the Right remains to be convinced that inequality matters and the Left's default position is to raise income tax.

A far more dramatic rethink is needed, which has been called True Progressivism. Renua Ireland has even shied from association with the word "progressivism" in favour of what a marketing slogan terms "inventive socialism".

The intention is to position the new party in the centre but to abandon, or fail to fully embrace, the radicalism as espoused by McDowell, among others.

This is a mistake: Renua Ireland seems to have taken aim at a catch-all centre, where Fianna Fail, Labour and a large element of Fine Gael already exist.

The focus needs to be on a more defined radical centre where the plurality of people is neither liberal nor conservative, but independent.

At this remove, a week away from launch, it seems to me that the Ross/Fitzmaurice alliance has a more clearly focussed ideology in keeping with the new progressive era.

After the local elections, Ross took it upon himself to write to newly elected councillors, and others, to correctly identify that a "new political party of the radical centre be formed."

Ross has better identified the issues where the radical centre can thrive: attack monopolies and vested interests; focus government spending on the poor, the young, education, welfare and tax reform; not to punish the rich or poor but to raise and spend money more efficiently and progressively.

Whether he achieves a "new political party of the radical centre" before the next election is doubtful.

But the welcome emergence of Renua Ireland and the Ross/Fitzmaurice alliance raises an interesting question with 12 months or less to go: can they form a voting pact to radically alter the outcome of the election?

If they can, then the term "radical" will underestimate the outcome of that election.

Sunday Independent

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