Reform Alliance likely to evolve cautiously towards becoming a political party
Opinion: A successful launch could see the group back in power as part of a coalition
What does the future hold? Deputy Lucinda Creighton and her husband, Senator Paul Bradford. Photograph: Alan Betson
Former minister of state Lucinda Creighton and most of her Reform Alliance allies lost the Fine Gael whip during the summer when they voted against abortion legislation. They then came together under the same banner, quickly moving beyond the single issue that united them in the first place. Although they are expelled from the parliamentary party, they remain (just about) within the wider FG family. Not for long, it would appear.
If Fine Gael’s view is that a sustained period of good behaviour and grace might provide a route back for the dissidents, they don’t seem remotely interested. Instead of staying quiet as if in purdah, they chose to publicly back the campaign to save the Seanad. In the scheme of things, this looked more like a declaration of intent than a simple act of defiance against Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
After all, Galway TD Brian Walsh walked out of the alliance early on, claiming it was “anti-Enda” and seemed like a new party in the making. No such qualms emerged to deter TDs Billy Timmins, Terence Flanagan, Peter Mathews and Denis Naughten, who lost the whip in 2011 over cuts at Roscommon hospital. The same goes for Senators Paul Bradford, who is Creighton’s husband, and Fidelma Healy-Eames.
Creighton is the star of the pack and has the gumption and ambition to set off down the party path, but the alliance would still need to bring in heavyweight talent to gain real momentum and cast off the image of an FG rump. The ability to draw on sharp personnel is crucial, as is a credible organisation and policy platform. What is more, Mathews and Healy-Eames proved politically troublesome for FG.
So where is it all going? The alliance proposition would be centre-right in economic terms, with an emphasis on State efficiency, political reform and rectitude in the public finances. For example, Creighton has spoken of the need to stick with the defunct €3.1 billion retrenchment target for next week’s budget. The alliance would campaign against public service waste and red tape and be pro-business and pro-investment.
While its members’ stance on abortion would offer clear attractions to social conservatives, there would be a free vote on issues of conscience. The basic aim would be to strike for a wider base than the conservative cohort and, importantly, to stay within the political mainstream.
Crucial too would be the notion of appealing to the growing number of Independent voters who have turned away from traditional parties.
One key idea is to bring in Independent TDs in the mould of Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly, who are not exactly in the conservative camp. For people like them, the allure of a party structure would be to provide an opportunity for greater influence and effectiveness. From the alliance’s perspective, the recruitment of well-known names not closely identified with its members’ objection to abortion would help widen its appeal.