Reform Alliance could soar like an eagle....or turn into a turkey

Analysis: Group of party exiles may eventually become a party

Lucinda Creighton gives an interview on the plinth outside the Dail in July after voting against one of the amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Lucinda Creighton gives an interview on the plinth outside the Dail in July after voting against one of the amendments to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. Photograph: Dave Meehan/The Irish Times

Thu, Jan 16, 2014, 14:42

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the Reform Alliance.

And in the long run it could turn out to be an eagle. Equally it could very well be a turkey.

On Saturday week, the Reform Alliance is holding a day-long conference in the RDS in Dublin. The group of seven parliamentarians (five TDs and two senators) have gone to great lengths and care in describing themselves as a group and an alliance, never as a party.

One astute behind-the-scenes operator from another party believes the alliance is playing a very astute game... antagonising Fine Gael but never quite enough to be pushed into permanent exile, making themselves such a strong presence that they become indispensable.

It’s the narrative of the Prodigal Son - the most recent person who starred in that role was Roy Keane as he returned to the FAI.

But most commentators - including this one - believe there is only one logical outcome to this process. And that is that the Reform Alliance will eventually become a party.

That isn’t going to happen in the short-term. For instance, its registration with Sipo as a third party is largely aimed at allowing the group to raise funds for research and to accept donations.

There is also a question over how many of the seven would be prepared to be members of a new party, rather than as a new alliance.

That said, it is hard to see the group (especially with its strong personalities) content to remain some form of external Fine Gael ginger group, or a slightly more cohesive version (ideologically) of the Dáil technical group.

For its conference on the 25th it wants has borrowed the latest vogue jargon work ‘conversation’ to describe its aims.

It wants to “begin a bottom up national conversation on how to rebuild Ireland and introduce reforms that will have a positive long-term impact on individuals, families and Irish society”.

The alliance has selected three themes - political reform, the economy and health.

While careful not to nail any colours to any masts - they are inviting views and opinions - there is nothing in the comprehensive briefing document that could not have come out of a Fine Gael manifesto while the party was in opposition.

That’s hardly a surprise as all are Fine Gael members (if not members of its parliamentary party) and the ideological positioning was always going to be slightly right of centre.

So invariably, there is particular emphasis on the role of business (especially the SME sector) in the section on the economy and its health section hardly demurs from the big Fine Gael idea of universal health insurance.

The longer term future of the RA will depend on a number of factors. One turns on the personalities involved and we will return to that a little later. The second is the turn-out at the conference. The third factor depends a little on a big turnout but revolves around what the party will do with the ideas that come out of the conference: transform them into a manifesto or in a less formal or casual manner (a sign that a party isn’t in the offing)?

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