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I find it difficult to deal with the nasty side of politics – Lucinda

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Lucinda Creighton wed her husband Paul Bradford in 2011

Lucinda Creighton wed her husband Paul Bradford in 2011

Lucinda Creighton wed her husband Paul Bradford in 2011

Women in public life in Ireland face the same contradictions as hot-housed children: too much attention combined with overly high expectations.

Meeting the real-life as opposed to the online Lucinda Creighton is, therefore, a disconcerting experience.

Online, her detractors portray her as a sort of Irish Sarah Palin with a smidgen of early Margaret Thatcher thrown in for good measure.

Comments range from 'elitist', 'arrogant', the 'new Mary Coughlan' to the more alarming, from a young admirer, "I don't know what it is about her, but I definitely would".

For politics nerds, in particular, she has become something of a bete noire, her statements on subjects ranging from neutrality to Scottish EU membership leading to irascible analysis.

Inside the party, older deputies see her inclination to speak out as being self-serving. But as one of the pro-Lucinda comments on one politics site noted re: her in-house critics, "these are people who would kill their granny to get a TD's seat at 27".

In person, Lucinda is direct without being brusque, confident and comfortable in her own skin. The criticism she has faced both on and offline does upset her. "Personal criticism, the nasty side, I find very difficult to deal with; if that runs off you, then you are not normal."

 

Enraged

She has taken various steps to avoid it. She doesn't read websites, such as politics.ie – "even though I think it's a good forum, it would only be human to look at what they are saying about you" – and she "never ever reads Phoenix" as it's "full of vitriol".

And though she will watch the news, she tries to curtail her current affairs TV habit. "I used to watch an awful a lot of Vincent Browne, but I would get enraged going to bed. It's not good for my sleep patterns."

She admits to feeling sorry for Clare Daly, "the fact that it was leaked without any conclusive evidence, very unfair, very unprofessional that that was leaked", she says. Edie Wynne, a Fine Gael councillor and long-time activist, who often gave a young Lucinda lifts from her student flat to constituency meetings, says that there is "a public and a private Lucinda".

Of the latter, Wynne says, "there is a no-go area with her: you can express your view, you know where you stand, but you won't fall out with her over it".

Wynne saw something special in the Claremorris native, then a TCD law student, right from the beginning. "She was terribly reliable, she worked very hard, is very intelligent, well-informed."

She instances the phonecalls, cards and visits if someone in a family is ill, for example, as being what other party workers would say about Lucinda. "She shows great respect for the members, you can't buy that kind of allegiance," Wynne adds. Yet outside Dublin South-East, Creighton's youth and her plum posting of Minister for State in European Affairs make her an obvious target for sniping.

There's no denying that she is delighted with her particular ministerial appointment, "I probably have the best job in the Government," she says, sitting in her substantial office in the Taoiseach's department.

She enjoys the cut and thrust of EU politics as well as liaising with a large number of Government departments. But as many politicians who have triumphed on the international stage know to their cost, it is the home audience that is often the most critical.

Issues such as cronyism, politicians' expenses, and Minister James Reilly's primary care centres debacle have upset both the FG core base and the broader electorate.

Her view is that where the Government has come in for criticism, it needs to listen and take on board what people are saying.

"I think the public are right to demand the absolutely highest standards in Government, but governments are made up of human beings, there have been mistakes and things that are disappointing. Things like criteria for Government decisions have to be even more transparent; we have to be seen to be 100pc transparent and open and fair," she says.

Her views on abortion and gay marriage have also led to her taking a large amount of flak.

"There's an expectation that you're supposed to think a certain way. And if you deviate away from that you come in for major ridicule," she says.

In her TCD law student days, she would have been a liberal on social issues.

"When I was a teenager, a student, I just didn't think very deeply about it, my views were probably influenced by what was becoming an acceptable view, that abortion is a medical treatment, almost like something you take for an illness," she says.

"I reflected a lot, knowing people who have gone through abortion and deeply regretted it, and people who've gone through everything to create life and they can't.

"I think it's a very basic thing that everybody has the right to life, it's not a half-measure, we have to vindicate the right to life, our constitution obliges us to do that."

Asked about the view expressed by pro-life activist Caroline Simons that "once the principle is conceded there's no going back", she is unequivocal in her support.

"She's right, she's right; I agree with that, there are no half-measures when it comes to the question of human rights.

"Any jurisdiction that has introduced abortion, it is introduced on a limited basis, and then becomes a very broad and liberal regime, that's my concern."

Responding to the argument that we do have abortion by default, e.g, in the numbers of Irish women who travel to Britain, she adds, "we have free movement, people can do that if they want – I don't think we have to adopt the values of another country.

"We are a distinctive jurisdiction. If the model we're advocating is the United Kingdom, then that's a model which has abortion on demand for any reason, basically, under the sun."

Though she refuses to pre-empt her response to proposed legislation on abortion until she has seen it, she is clear that, "I made commitments to my constituents and Fine Gael made commitments as well, and I'm determined to honour those commitments".

Her viewpoint is not she says, based on religion. "I'm not a devout Catholic. I'm a very infrequently practising Catholic. It's very much a question of human rights."

Would she then put principle above politics? "Politics is all about principle," she argues.

"Not having principles is what destroyed this country. People put their own political advancement over what was the right thing to do – they were afraid to put their head above the parapet, in case they didn't get promoted. That has destroyed this country, so I'd much rather have politicians who considered politics to be about principle."

In other interviews, she has traced her interest in politics back to the long-term battles between Charles Haughey and Garrett Fitzgerald, and the fact that her primary-teacher mother was very interested in politics.

However, looking back, she reckons her 16-year-old self would have wanted "to work in politics but in the background, though. My friends and teachers might have seen it differently. My mother would have prayed I'd stayed away from politics as it's such a volatile and harsh lifestyle". Sticking to her desire to separate the public and the private, her 2011 wedding to FG colleague Senator Paul Bradford was low-key and, by coincidence, held on the same day as Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton. Husband-to-be Paul spent the morning of the wedding in a rather unusual way.

"He was actually tallying for another Senator's count, pretending to be a cool customer," she volunteers, adding with a smile: "It was a perfect day, a great day; it was just my immediate family and a few close friends."

Since they had been friends for 10 years before they got together, she was 31 and he was 47, it obviously wasn't love at first sight. "It was very much a slow-burner," she agrees.

So was there a pivotal moment?

"What happened was that Paul lost his seat. He decided to go for the Senate, and I volunteered to go around the country and canvass for him and a few other friends, because it's a very arduous, lonely job, so that's how it all took off".

 

Moment

Was there a moment though when she asked herself how has this happened? "There were a lot of moments when we both went, 'how on earth has this happened', but I suppose we just clicked and that was it, there was never any doubt then."

And what about the other man in her life, Enda Kenny? "It makes for good soap opera, media speculation about me and Enda. We work a lot on European issues together, I think that our working relationship has only gotten stronger."

As to her own political ambitions, she is clear that being Taoiseach is not on the horizon.

"I just think politicians have a shelf-life; you need to know when it's time to go. Some people would probably say that I should go now," she laughs.

In fact, in the future, she would like to emulate her family background– her late father was a bookie – and go into business. "Many of my family were involved in their own businesses so I would like to set up my own business, in what, I don't know yet". Combining politics with a family is also out, "not in this current job", she says, "I don't think it would be possible but who knows what the future holds."

Her only sibling Niamh who is older, has five children, aged from 4 to 14. "Does she envy you your freedom?" I ask. "No actually I envy her, but the other man's grass is always greener."


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