Paraic Gallagher takes an in-depth look at the leader and her party
Election 2016 will be a make-or-break one for many politicians, but none more so than Lucinda Creighton. After being somewhat of a rising star in Fine Gael she fell foul of the party and went on to establish her own, Renua Ireland. So far the polls have not been kind to the venture, but what exactly is she offering voters?
Lucinda Creighton was the youngest TD elected in the 2007 general election and quickly became somewhat of a household name. She’s one of a few politicians you will casually hear people refer to by their first name. People talk about ‘Lucinda’ the same way they referred to ‘Bertie’.
Her rise through politics was brisk. She was elected a Dublin city councillor at the age of 24, a year later she saw herself called to the bar, two years later she was a Fine Gael TD at the age of 27, and by the age of 31 she was a Minister of State.
In 2010, she stood out as one of the gang that backed Richard Bruton in the failed heave against Enda Kenny as leader as Fine Gael. At the time, some wondered if the result of the heave would end the political career of the straight-talking Lucinda. It didn’t. Less than a year later she was a junior Minister in the coalition, working side by side with Enda Kenny in the European Affairs portfolio. I remember a conversation with her the night before she was appointed. I said to her that she would be getting the call the next day. She laughed and said she wasn’t interested and didn’t expect the call. In words that I won’t put in writing that she insisted she wouldn’t take a Ministerial job, and repeatedly asserted she didn’t expect to get one. 16 hours later she was posing for photographs with Enda Kenny as part of the new junior ministerial team.
A natural politician
Lucinda Creighton has an interest in politics that appears to go back to her childhood. Last October she gave a talk to the Trinity Politics Society and recalled the foundation of the Progressive Democrats. Lucinda Creighton was just five when that happened and so either as she put it herself in that talk “Maybe I was always weird”, or she grew up with the PDs and watched the politics unfold.
It was in Trinity that Creighton’s interest in politics really took off. She joined Young Fine Gael in the university, recruited by Leo Varadkar. At that talk, she noted that politics was central to her time in college and that she often missed 9am lectures because she had something else to do connected to politics.
It was after graduating and while practising law in the United States that she was approached to contest the 2004 local elections. She was elected and soon got herself on Dublin radio stations to discuss issues and so in 2007 it wasn’t a great surprise to many around her that she would contest – and win – a Dáil seat. It was the first time that somebody born in the 1980’s was a public representative in Dáil Eireann.
She was appointed the Fine Gael spokesperson on European Affairs and held that position until the failed heave, but even after falling foul of the leader at that time it was clear that she wasn’t going to be left on the bold step forever. Kenny went on to appoint her as a deputy justice spokesperson. Some might argue that it wasn’t a real job – talking about immigration, integration and equality. But others argue that it was recognition by Enda Kenny that it was better maybe to keep her within the fold. Just months later Fine Gael was in Government, and more importantly, Creighton had an office inside Government Buildings.
Making a name for herself
During her two and a bit years in ministerial office, Creighton co-ordinated the Irish Presidency of the EU. Sometimes when politicians become ministers they change, become less vocal, having to toe the line so to speak. How was this going to suit Creighton who had so openly spoken out against what she called “the cute hoor politics of Fine Gael”? Well, she continued to speak out. She was critical of many other European leaders in relation to their handling of the Eurozone crisis. She once said: “while the European spirit lives on, what is absent is the willingness and courage to argue, communicate and persuade people that it is still a good idea”. Notably, that statement was present on her personal website but seems to have disappeared as part of the Renua rebrand.
In 2013, the coalition brought forward the Protection of Life During Pregnancy legislation. Creighton and a number of other Fine Gael colleagues in the Dáil and Seanad opposed the legislation, which was to give legal clarity to allowing doctors carry out terminations of pregnancy where the life of the woman was at risk. Creighton wanted a free vote on the issue, believing that many others opposed it. The Government refused this and applied the whip and Creighton was forced to resign her junior ministerial post.
A new home
In the days and weeks after being expelled from the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, many wondered how long it would be before she would be back in the fold. Traditionally people who lose the whip on an issue do some penance and are brought back into the fold after nine or 12 months. But some around Enda Kenny were adamant that she was ‘gone for good’ as it was put to me at the time. I remember replying to one senior person close to the Taoiseach, “but will Enda Kenny be around for good?” and being told that he had ‘seen her off’.
As those weeks and months passed by it started to become apparent that there probably wouldn’t be a re-unification of the two sides and that divorce was inevitable. Creighton initially formed the ‘Reform Alliance’, which she and others said was not a new party, but a means of getting Dáil speaking time. In 2014, she joined the Dáil’s technical group.
But speculation continued in the background about Creighton’s plans to form a new political party. In the early days of January 2015, Lucinda Creighton announced ‘Reboot Ireland’ and that she was indeed working to establish a new political party. In March of 2015 (on Friday the 13th in fact) she officially launched Renua. Into the new party with her came Wicklow TD Billy Timmins (deputy leader), Deputy Terence Flanagan, and her husband Senator Paul Bradford. But others who lost the Fine Gael whip over the new abortion laws were not involved.
Defying the polls?
Since its foundation, Renua has struggled to get above 2% in any opinion poll. That doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirits in the party and they hope to do much better on election day. There has only been one test for the party since its formation – and that was the Carlow/Kilkenny by-election. There Renua polled nearly 10 percent and was in fourth place.
Creighton’s own seat in Dublin is far from a certainty. Fine Gael is throwing everything they have into Dublin Bay South and firmly believe that they can prevent the Renua leader getting re-elected. But maybe her high profile in the media will be enough to get her over the line. But the constituency, which is a rebrand of the old Dublin South East has a history too of getting rid of people with a high-profile and who speak their minds – just ask Michael McDowell or John Gormley. Billy Timmins is also depending on more of a personal vote in Wicklow, while Terence Flanagan in Dublin Bay North will struggle in what has effectively become a super constituency on Dublin’s north side where a new candidate seems to crop up every other day. It’s also hard to see how Creighton’s husband, Senator Paul Bradford can take a seat in Cork East, where he was a Fine Gael TD between 1989 and 2002. The party’s best shot at a new seat seems to be in Offaly where Councillor John Leahy could come through.
Back in Government?
If Renua has any number of seats after the election, there is a likelihood that those TDS could be in Government rather than opposition. The polls suggest that Fine Gael will lead the next Government, probably alongside a much depleted Labour Party. But that coalition would likely still fall short, maybe by just a few seats, or maybe by a dozen or so.
But Renua Ireland is within the political gene pool of Fine Gael, and Enda Kenny will do whatever it takes to become Taoiseach, even if that means once again making a call to Lucinda Creighton and offering her a Ministerial post.