Friday 22 February 2019

John Drennan: Coalition takes wind out of Creighton start-up sails

Whatever about guns or lawyers, Lucinda's brave new world needs policies and candidates, writes John Drennan

Lucinda Creighton pictured at the launch of the new Renua parrty in Trinity College. Picture; GERRY MOONEY. 13/3/15
Lucinda Creighton pictured at the launch of the new Renua parrty in Trinity College. Picture; GERRY MOONEY. 13/3/15

John Drennan

All the public attention may have been on Terence Flanagan's Father Dougal moment on Drivetime where one-third of Renua's parliamentary party stuttered to a halt on the minor issue of what the party stood for.

However, when it came to Lucinda's new party, the far more sinister background music consisted of the Coalition come-back. Friday's Paddy Power Red C poll certainly confirmed what many of us were suspecting.

The swing to Fine Gael and Labour means that Fine Gael, with 26pc, and Labour, with 9pc, are getting very close to breaking the critical 40pc barrier which would give the Coalition 70 seats.

It is a long way from the masters of the universe territory of 2011.

But Labour's determined break-out from Green meltdown country and Fine Gael's consolidation certainly suggests that a little bit of prosperity has seen Paddy revert to his inner Frankenstein of cautious conservatism.

Before Renua despairs too much though, the future is not excessively warm for the Coalition. This reality means the most likely outcome of the next election is one where Fine Gael and Labour will still need to be part of a new home-grown Troika.

One possible leg of that putative political stool finally did kick off on Friday. But while the launch was well prepared, and even better intentioned, the new party is facing into significant headwinds.

Once you strip away all the ideology stuff, ultimately the essential determinant of success for any new party is best summarised by the famous Warren Zevon song where a son, in trouble in Cuba pleads with his father to "send lawyers, guns and money".

It is probably excessive to suggest guns are needed - though it hasn't done Sinn Fein any harm - but lawyers, money and candidates are pretty firm predictors of political success.

And whatever about lawyers: money and candidates are still in short supply when it comes to Renua.

In fairness, there was no shortage of idealism and a determination to be radical but when it comes to Irish politics and success, idealism and radicalism go together like . . . well like the PDs in the long rather than the short run.

If there was anything good to come from the launch of Lucinda's new party it was the name change.

Reboot Ireland was never a name that would last or remain in the affections.

Some mirth accompanied the association with a plumbing company, but plumbing is a useful sort of practical occupation.

At the launch, the absences were nearly as interesting as the omissions.

The departures of Peter Mathews and Fidelma certainly erased the Fine Gael rump appearance.

Those who joined certainly took the 'Popeish plot' look off things.

Ryan Tubridy might have obsessed about abortion on the Late Late, but at the launch Renua made it pretty clear that this is a party that is about reform rather than the rosary.

In fairness to Tubridy, he did make a valid point when Lucinda used the "it's our first day" defence once too often when it came to Terence and his awfully big brain-freeze.

Tubridy's sarky observation that Renua was "playing senior hurling now" was wounding.

The problem that Renua has now is that whilst it is playing senior hurling, it is a bit short of team members.

Lucinda is good, but she cannot be the goalkeeper, full-back, centre-back, centre-forward, full-forward and supply the ball.

In fairness, Fast Eddie Hobbs managed to outline a definitive policy position. Sadly, this managed to alienate 300,000 public sector workers in two mighty sentences about no new pay increases.

As the mandarins in Yes Minister used to say, it was a "very brave" position indeed.

Sadly, despite its courage, outside of the tricky absence of guns and cash the new party will be playing against the wind in one other key area.

The current position of Renua and its rivals on the Independents front is a living example of the truth behind Shakespeare's warning that unless you take that "tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune" then alas "all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries".

The bad news for any new party coming in now is that the tide that was surging for our Independents is on the ebb.

There is still a gap in the market but competition has increased and potential political profit margins are shortening.

In fairness, at least a new party has, somewhat uncertainly, entered the rarely brave old world of Irish politics.

Sadly, few countries more comprehensively fulfil the criteria that informs Machiavelli's view that there "is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than the creation of a new system".

The one thing which cannot be gainsaid is that if that duplicitous fellow Paddy is genuinely in the market for a democratic revolution there is a party in the field.

By next week we could be spoilt for choice with a second.

Difference is suddenly trotting into Irish politics to say hello.

It will, as we noted, not be easy.

But Renua, and the Ross Alliance can, after last week's poll be cheered by one piece of good news.

At least they are not Fianna Fail, for then you really would be in trouble.

Renua to copy Obama precedent on funding

RENUA leader Lucinda Creighton believes the internet holds the answer to her new party's unique funding difficulties.

The new party believes it will have to raise half a million euro if it is to mount a credible national campaign in the next general election.

Unlike conventional parties or any putative independent alliances, it does not receive any exchequer funding despite having three TDs.

Ms Creighton said the party "will be prioritising digital methods".

"Like Obama, we plan to engage in crowd funding through the internet," she said.

"This is part of our policy of creating a digital-led country.

"We intend to practise what we preach by engaging in dialogue with voters and seeking funding by this method," she said.

Ms Creighton added: "We hope to replace the church gate with the iCloud''.

The Renua leader, however, also slammed the current unequal funding landscape. She told the Sunday Independent: ''We are competing against the major parties who are securing €13m a year in taxpayer funding; Fine Gael alone are receiving €5m a year.''

The new party will also be appointing seven regional fundraising officers and engaging in a series of more conventional national fundraising drives.

The Renua leader noted that: ''The €2,500 limit on donations represents a formidable difficulty; we are not on a level playing pitch in any sense of the term.''

Meanwhile, a party spokesperson claimed that Terence Flanagan's unfortunate 'brain freeze' on Drivetime had been caused by the stress involved in setting up the new party.

"Terence was just mentally and physically exhausted after a week that involved very late nights leading up to launch day," the spokesperson said.

"The mental and physical exhaustion of the thousands of hours that go into starting a new political party just got to him',' she said.

Mr Flanagan was not available for comment.

Last throw of the dice for Lucinda

One of the most intriguing features of the development of Lucinda Creighton's new party is the palpable desire across the establishment for 'that woman' to fail.

Of course, Renua is not Lucinda's party. But everyone knows that the life and death of this fluttering political fledgling is lying in Lucinda's cupped hands.

The world also knows that should the new party fail then Lucinda will find herself in the sort of political desert Charles Haughey ended up in after the Arms Trial.

In Irish politics, it is bad enough if you try to kill the king - but if you engage in acts of regicide against the very party that spawned you then forgiveness will never come.

The desire for 'that woman' to fail is palpable for another simple reason. Lucinda's party, founded as it is upon the concepts of character and independent thinking, represents an existential challenge to the grand old Irish way of doing things.

It should be remembered the original breakdown that bedevilled Enda, Lucinda and the Reform Alliance gang had little to do with abortion.

It was, instead, all about the endemic war within Fine Gael between the party's idealistic chevaliers and the Roundhead conservative wing that has been going on for five decades. Many hoped the final denouement had been reached at Fine Gael's battle of the Alamo in 2010 where Enda, Big Phil, Little Al Shatter and James 'Doc' Reilly saw off the chevaliers.

Instead, it continued into government until a final revolt occurred, where those who believed election promises, even on abortion, should be kept were routed by the Fianna Fail Lite wing of things.

When Lucinda lost the whip, the hardy pragmatists within Fine Gael expressed the hope that Enda's less-than-quiet woman might yet be back, bowing deferentially before King Enda in six months.

But the thing the pragmatists could not understand about the ease with which Lucinda left office and party is that something of the classic Fine Gael aristocrat surrounds Lucinda. Unlike Enda and the rest of the Lite wing of the party, who lust only to supplant their Fianna Fail tribal enemies, she is a creature of a politics of conscience.

This quality of independence meant Lucinda found her expulsion from the Fine Gael herd to be a dangerously liberating experience.

It allowed her to speak openly about the rot at the heart of a political system "where TDs were to leave morals or conscience aside in order to defer to the latest opinion poll [or] the party hierarchy".

The initial fear in Fine Gael was that how Lucinda might fare would represent a judgement on Enda's "democratic revolution".

This, in Creighton's view, had morphed into just another variant of that "groupthink, which is a corrosive affliction in this country" and which thrived in the Haughey and the Celtic tiger era.

The belated recognition that Fine Gael was simply unable to move away from old ways meant the canary in Enda's golden cage had to leave 'old politics' and forge a new road.

She is certainly singing like a canary now and no one will be hoping more fervently than Dear Leader Enda that her political lifespan is as short.

The last thing Kenny needs in an election year is that his expelled troublesome priestess will turn into a PD-style pebble in his shoe.

In truth, the new party is not modelled on the gristly old PD relic. Instead, it bears a far closer resemblance to the equally disparate Clann Na Poblachta party of the 1950s, where a new party of idealistic radicals challenged the establishment.

Rather like the original Clann, little is known about the candidates to such an extent that the dominant response to the launch of Renua last week was "forget the policies who are the candidates".

It is a lacuna that occasioned much mirth among those who like to see things being done the traditional old way. But Renua will be the touchstone which will determine whether, for once, Paddy has been roused out of his endemic apathy by the sheer uselessness of the governing class.

Of course, questions exist as to whether it has timed its run too late. After Lucinda left Fine Gael, when it came to establishing something new we didn't so much get the dance of the seven veils as the dance of the 70 veils.

After a time, Paddy got distracted - and once that happens it is very hard to get his attention back. The progress of the new party was not helped by the scenario where more people were leaving than offering, or that political foxes like Shane Ross began to pad around the same chicken coop as Lucinda.

And there was still that whole abortion thing, which kept on putting its head up and winking and nodding whenever Lucinda crossly said: "Abortion is not the reason I got involved in politics".

It does represent a bit of a stretch for Shane Ross, the four-decade-long member of the Oireachtas to reinvent himself as a revolutionary radical. In fairness, though, the line between contrarianism and revolution is a fine one. And if Russell Brand is leading the English revolt against the old way of doing things, Shane is entitled to his shot too.

However, as Michael Fitzmaurice also raced on to the pitch, where there had been virgin territory all round, suddenly the fields were crowded with political bulls.

By contrast, Lucinda resembled Tennyson's Lady of Shalott, who had been so busy looking in the mirror as the world passed her by that it was too late to join in.

Fine Gael's lost Joan of Arc has now finally put the political chainmail on. The child of old-style Fine Gael Mayo politics has reached the end of her long political awakening. Though she is acutely aware there will be no revivalist-style PD upsurge waiting out there for Renua, she is driven by the belief that "Civil War politics ended in 2011".

Fine Gael might have benefited temporarily from the collapse of Fianna Fail, but Creighton believes that "if they or any other party believes they can from now on command a core vote as a matter of right they are deluded".

As to whether that creates a space for Renua; well she is about to find out the truth of that in practice rather than theory.

Factfile

NAME: Lucinda Creighton

AGE: 35

POSITION: Party Leader

IN THE NEWS BECAUSE: Lucinda and the Fine Gael rebels have finally given birth to a new political party. The child's name is Renua and, no, we don't quite know what it means either. However,Ireland finally has a new political party to fuss over or ignore.

Sunday Independent

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