Thursday 21 February 2019

Anne Harris: Humiliation and isolation – the cost of a conscience

The wilderness is wild and lonely. Face that, and you will emerge with your soul intact, Anne Harris tells Lucinda Creighton

D-DAY: Former junior minister Lucinda Creighton and her husband, Senator Paul Bradford, at Leinster House on Wednesday, ahead of the vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill that saw her expelled from Fine Gael.
D-DAY: Former junior minister Lucinda Creighton and her husband, Senator Paul Bradford, at Leinster House on Wednesday, ahead of the vote on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill that saw her expelled from Fine Gael.

Dear Lucinda, "There is no consolation." That was the novelist Doris Lessing's verdict on loss. Accept this bleak message at the outset and things will be a lot easier for you. It will save you energy and unnecessary grief as you confront your new life. The life in which your lack of power will be amply made up for by an abundance of time.

Hold on, you are thinking – time is the one thing you haven't got right now.

Because this is your weekend of political obsequies. Like a person faced with a funeral, you reel from decision to decision (interview to interview), and find yourself hugging people you never laid eyes on before. People will really want to press the flesh – and this matters. But you will eventually face the fact that some of the people who say they're behind you all the way may be saying the same thing to the people that you've taken a stand against.

You have cleared out your office on a ruthless deadline to allow the next incumbent in. No time to dwell on memories or "process" things, as they say in the bereavement business, so you will scarcely register the unseemly haste with which Paschal Donohoe was welcomed and your former staff are now obliged to turn their loyalty over to him. Try not to let those tapes replay in the dark watches of the night.

That's politics, and you know politics as well as anyone does. You will have been aware for weeks that the party was spinning against you. Not just the usual stuff levelled against anyone (especially a woman) who steps outside the consensus and actually has a principle – that you are obsessive, that you cannot see the big picture, which means the good of the party, the way the men can.

This spin has been more finessed. You are planning, they say, a new career – perhaps at the Bar. How inoculated from reality they are. Few people are stepping into ready-made careers down in the Four Courts right now. The real glittering prizes are to be had up there in Leinster House where, after four years as a junior minister, you would have been entitled to a handsome pension.

To walk away from a fat ministerial pension and settle for a minimum one – surely that singular act should give the opinion-formers pause for thought.

But no. Gemma Hussey's comments on Prime Time were the sign and symbol of your isolation. A woman who feminised politics herself back in Garret FitzGerald's day, she had no praise for a woman's principles. Perhaps she is cushioned against reality by her own fat ministerial pension, but she expressed no regret that one of only two women in the higher echelons of Fine Gael politics was now expelled.

The Women's Council, so vociferous about the late-night loutishness in Leinster House, had nothing to say for you. That's probably because you have your own ideas, did your own thing. You just wanted to be a politician, not a woman's politician, and so you didn't try to feminise any of it.

And even though all over Ireland, decent woman and men who do not share your opinion on the legislation would defend to the death your right to it, Official Ireland has abandoned you.

The headlines are right. You are facing into a wilderness. The thing about the wilderness is it can be wild. And lonely. You stepped outside the group and you are now shut out from the psychologically important bolstering of identity that it provides. Isolation is the ultimate test of character. We are all, to varying extents, social animals, but politicians are probably more clubbable by nature than other people. From a young age, you band together and the sense of party, shared project and solidarity is everything.

Being shut out from that will be, I imagine, psychologically quite a serious punishment for you.

People will have mixed feelings towards you. Some will regard you as marked, doomed, no longer a success. Someone on whom – and remember they are politicians – it would be foolish to waste time. So they will avoid you.

For others, you will always be a reminder of the comportment of conscience, and thus a source of guilt, and therefore also to be avoided. Even the ones who say they admire you secretly resent you because you're exposing the fact that they too had had a choice, and they'd much rather pretend that they didn't. Indeed, any temporary sense of being unworthy they might harbour quickly fades and is replaced by all the little day-to-day achievements.

As Ronald Reagan said about those who give in to what isn't right: they're just feeding the crocodile in the hope that he'll eat them last.

Personally, I don't think the crocodile is ever that discerning.

You are the one in the wilderness and the worst wilderness is the one you will face alone on those dark nights of the soul when you wake at 3am and wonder if you did the right thing. All around you will be people with much less backbone, not to mention less ability, luxuriating in the jobs that you know you're much better qualified for, while you languish, unappreciated, your talents underused.

Politicians have faced into the wilderness before and survived. Charlie Haughey did. He emerged more dangerous than when he entered it. A sense of injustice can be a powerful force for good, but it can corrode the soul as well. I doubt that will happen to you. Because, despite your political loss, you have a consolation prize, the only one worth having. As the poet said: "There's one who loves the pilgrim soul in you."

So Lucinda, have a good night's sleep. Stop wearing black. Enjoy the summer. And mind the Senate.

Yours sincerely,

Anne Harris

Irish Independent

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