Lucinda's choice: Where to now for FG's golden girl?
THERE was uproar within the normally genteel atmosphere of the Fine Gael organisation in the leafy suburbs of Dublin South-East in the months leading up to the 2007 general election.
The old guard in Garret FitzGerald's former stomping ground were outraged by allegations that some party figures were using bogus addresses to register new members.
Complaints were made to FG headquarters about new members – particularly younger ones – being registered with addresses "care of" pubs and colleges.
The party's 'one-member, one-vote' policy at selection conventions meant whoever had more supporters registered and there on the night got on the ticket. The employment of so-called convention stuffing and virtual branches were common.
The finger-pointing added tension to a high-stakes battle to be the Fine Gael candidate between two of the party's rising young stars: newly elected Dublin City Council members Brian Gillen and Lucinda Creighton.
Given her association with Young Fine Gael, Creighton's supporters were perceived to be behind the flood of new member registrations.
In the face-off between Old Fine Gael versus New Fine Gael, Creighton won out. The sharp, intelligent and articulate Mayo woman was the preferred candidate of FG's hierarchy. A blind eye was turned by party headquarters to the complaints about questionable member registrations.
The rest, as they say, is history as she went on to win a seat in a party heartland – all the sweeter at the expense of the then Progressive Democrats leader and Tanaiste Michael McDowell – to become Fine Gael's youngest TD.
It was the genesis of a bright future career as a Fine Gael TD.
Come the next general election, though, the European Affairs Minister may find herself on the other side of the fence. Party HQ can come down heavy in candidate selections when required.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is making it "perfectly clear" rebel TDs who vote against the abortion legislation won't be running for the party in the next general election.
Aside from trying to discourage others from walking, Kenny is also under pressure to show those who stayed loyal that the rebels will be punished. "They're not the only ones having a hard time voting for this legislation," one party TD said.
Despite disputes over the official rules, Fine Gael sources say the leadership holds the trump cards when it comes to the procedures for selecting candidates.
Memberships of the party can be blocked, the holding of conventions can be prevented and ratification of candidacies can be withheld.
"Unfortunately, for anyone who tries to take on the party, they don't normally win," a senior party source said.
In Creighton's case, her influential detractors in the party hierarchy – of which she knows there are several – would possibly ensure that every obstacle to a return was put in her path.
The strong risk of not being a FG candidate at the next election is just one of the outcomes of her now anticipated vote against the Coalition next week. She will be giving up her junior ministry, a potential seat at the Cabinet table within the next three years and setting her political career back in a manner from which she may never recover.
Fine Gael insiders point out Alan Shatter was in the Dail for 30 years before getting a shot at ministerial office.
Whether she intended to or not, Creighton is regarded as having painted herself into a corner with her stance, demanding significant changes to the legislation for her support.
Her comment about "groupthink" within the party hasn't gone down too well either.
Even experienced politicians are failing to see how she can do anything but vote against the legislation next week. Given all she would be giving up, there are still some who wonder if she will actually go ahead and vote against the legislation in line with her beliefs.
"In conflicts between careers and conscience, careers usually win out," a FG senator observed.
Nobody questions her strongly held views, but there are those who feel she thinks it's all about her and she's the only one with the dilemma.
Despite her deser- vedly rapid rise through the ranks, to a position she clearly has a grasp and love of in the European brief, Creighton is thought to be frustrated by her lot.
"Does she want to be in politics any more? There is no judgment in her sometimes. You can't win every battle. A bit of it is about Leo (Varadkar) and him getting ahead by being in Cabinet. She's very competitive. But unlike her, he learns," a minister said.
However, a party colleague points to a potential way out for Creighton – provided she's willing to swallow her pride in the short term.
"I think it would be a big loss to the party if she left. But she has now put herself into a corner. The legislation is going to pass anyway. Whether it passes with 138 votes or 137 votes doesn't matter. She might come to the view she's better off staying in the party and representing a pro-life position," a minister says.
Lucinda Creighton has got between now and next week, when the final vote takes place, to decide upon her future.