Thursday 18 January 2018

This could be push needed to form new party

Fiach Kelly

AS FINE Gael TDs and senators began setting out how they would vote on abortion in recent weeks, Lucinda Creighton was always the one to watch. The most senior TD with deep-seated concerns on the issue, she would be a natural leader for those in Fine Gael who feel the legislation is against their values and the election promises they made.

No matter what you think about her position, it cannot be denied that Ms Creighton is a conviction politician and what she is doing now is following her convictions. That is to be admired, even if you disagree with her.

She can certainly not be accused of taking a populist position designed to advance her career.

Her period as European Affairs Minister has been widely perceived as a success, topped off by the EU presidency, and it may have been enough to allow Taoiseach Enda Kenny forget past differences and promote her to Cabinet.

That will disappear at a stroke if she votes with her conscience and conviction against the abortion bill. But it will certainly not be the end of Ms Creighton.

Although her Dublin South-East constituency is thought of as – and most likely is – one of the most liberal in the country, her stance will do her little electoral harm.

Her Labour constituency colleague, Kevin Humphreys, said of a recent round of canvassing: "There wasn't a night we didn't get a set of rosary beads waved at us."

A conservative base of around 30-40pc in a volatile constituency means she is unlikely to lose her seat.

And if the coming weeks cement her position as someone who can lead, then more possibilities open up.

Michael McDowell and Declan Ganley's consistent flirtations with establishing a new party show there is space for a right-wing, low-tax party.

As has been pointed out in these pages before, Fine Gael is as far right as Irish politics gets now and it is, in truth, a centrist party.

Aside from that, Fianna Fail is trying to steal some of Labour's clothes, while Sinn Fein is taking the harder left road.

Ms Creighton, if she takes a sizeable lump of Fine Gael with her, could lead a new party – and some in Fine Gael feel this is what she is planning to do.

But the market she could seek to exploit is a complex one.

Fiscally conservative but socially liberal voters could baulk at her abortion stance, while pro-business Eurosceptics might be turned off by the prospect of such a Europhile leading a low-tax party.

But time can allow such differences to subside. Come election time in two years, is it so inconceivable that Ms Creighton could unite these groups under one banner?

Irish Independent

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