Lucinda the star of the moment but Reform Alliance’s larger purpose remains a mystery

Former Fine Gael junior minister in combative mood despite the acclaim

Lucinda Creighton at the Reform Alliance conference at the RDS over the weekend. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Lucinda Creighton at the Reform Alliance conference at the RDS over the weekend. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Mon, Jan 27, 2014, 01:00

A grand day out. But it went a bit sour in the end. Lucinda Creighton said she was very happy, but she didn’t look or sound it. The woman who is not the leader of a phantom party appeared oddly defensive and piqued when she spoke to the media immediately after the Reform Alliance’s first major rally. With applause still echoing around the hall, she had to make her way through a throng of well-wishers and admirers before she reached the press.

Clearly, Lucinda Creighton was the star of this show.

Perhaps later, upon reflection, she and her colleagues may come to the conclusion that their rally in the RDS didn’t provide the sort of positive affirmation needed to take the political party plunge.

But that’s for later. On Saturday afternoon, the former junior minister could congratulate herself on having come through a very successful day. She was the woman of the moment. But Lucinda couldn’t turn her thoughts away from the media treatment she has received in the last while.

She reserved most of her ire for The Irish Times, suggesting we have it in for her because of her pro-life views. But she also seemed annoyed by the general coverage. You could detect the hurt in her voice.

“The first stage is when people laugh at you and completely dismiss you. The next stage is when they start to sneer at you and try to undermine you – and we’ve had plenty of that in the last few weeks – and we expect it to continue,” she said. “But I suppose it’s a sign that people are a little bit worried.”

Therein lies the problem for Creighton and her fellow members of the RA. People aren’t worried anymore.

Her former colleagues in Fine Gael may have been concerned for a while, particularly given the amount of publicity the TD for Dublin South East is able to attract. But not now.

A supporter asked her if “the established parties” see the Reform Alliance as a threat.

“I think there’s always resistance to change: whether it’s from political parties, the establishment – right across the board, media, vested interests, government . . .” Lucinda replied, adding: “I mean, it’s what we expect and we won’t be cowed down or deterred.”

But cowed down and deterred from doing what? At the end of a long day of familiar talk about reform, we were none the wiser about the Alliance and where it might be going.


Edition of Frontline
Their event was like an extended edition of Frontline, with three different panels addressing three very broad subjects followed by contributions from members of the audience.

There was a huge curiosity factor about this conference. The size and mood of the crowd would reveal a lot about the Reform Alliance’s prospects.

Would it match the fervour once generated by the Progressive Democrats back in the day? Huge crowds at their meetings – places such as Dublin’s National Stadium packed to the rafters with wildly enthusiastic members of middle Ireland. There was an energy and optimism about those early days.

So out we went on Saturday with our divining rods to see if we could detect any “groundswell”. It wasn’t there. The atmosphere was nothing near those heady days of Dessie O’Malley and what he might do for the squeezed middle.

Nonetheless, Lucinda and co still managed to pull in a very big crowd. Almost 1,400 people came to see what the RA have to offer. Which was vague talk about how things should be done better – the sort of stuff they talked about in Fine Gael before they broke the link over the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

And yes – if Lucinda will forgive us for saying it – there was a very large contingent present from the pro-life side of things.

The Dublin South East TD is fed-up with people labelling her new grouping as the political wing of the movement.

As she pointed out, abortion was only mentioned a couple of times during the day. But when it was, a noticeable majority in the crowd stood and cheered.

The highlight of the morning session came from journalist Marc Coleman, who is apparently chairman of something called the National Forum.

Before his short contribution, he complimented panellist Olivia O’Leary on her speech.

“Even if you’re old, you’re still hot!” he declared, sparking a rush for the smelling salts as the tweet machine exploded.

The panellists were mainly of the kind who pop up all the time at public events and radio discussions. The sort who will never find themselves interviewed in a queue by Paddy O’Gorman.

Perennial panellist David McWilliams spoke at great length in the afternoon, and then some.


Party possibility
Meanwhile, Fidelma Healy Eames didn’t rule out the possibility of the RA becoming a political party. “Let us proceed from where we’re at.”

She didn’t get a chance to address the crowd due to a technical hitch. Never mind. “I’m very excited,” she told us, as the conference trundled on.

There were interesting contributions from the platform and from the floor, although a lot of people were just giving out about things. If the rally was a focus group for the RA, at least they now know they have the aul fella vote sewn up.

“We’re trying to create a coherent platform,” said Lucinda, declaring that the rally was the “beginning of a national conversation”.

Another one.

Significantly, by the end of business, the Reform Alliance had recorded its first miracle.

Peter Mathews spoke for just two minutes. “One minute and fifty-nine seconds,” said the old hottie, proudly.

So what is the Reform Alliance all about? Apart from wanting a better world – like everyone else in a crowded market.

Still no idea.

But we can only hope Lucinda’s rather testy mood on Saturday was not the beginning of the rage against the dying of the limelight.