Reform Alliance not about ‘perpetuation of party politics’

New party ‘not on agenda’, Creighton tells RDS event attended by some 1,350 people

A crowd of almost 1,000 people have turned up at the RDS in Dublin today for the Reform Alliance conference organised by rebel Fine Gael TDs and senators.


The formation of the Reform Alliance is not about the “perpetuation of party politics”, Lucinda Creighton said at the conclusion of the group’s first conference in Dublin today.

However, while the former junior minister and Dublin South East TD said the formation of a political party is not on the agenda, another Reform Alliance member, Fidelma Healy-Eames, said it is a possibility in the future.

“The objective was to get people here to talk about reform ideas and we’ve had plenty of those so I suppose the ball is in our court to try and develop the ideas and transform them into policy and see them in the Dáil and in the Seanad,” Ms Creighton said.

Some 1,350 people attended the day long conference at the RDS in Dublin, which held sessions on political reform, health and the economy.

The conference was closed with a speech by Ms Creighton in which she said reform is needed to “ensure we are not doomed to repeat mistakes and failures of the past again”.

She called the meeting “an extraordinary demonstration of the Irish public desire for something new and something different” and said it was the start of a “national conversation”.

Speaking to media afterwards, Ms Creighton said forming a party was “not the purpose” of the meeting. “We are trying to create a coherent platform,” she said. “What happens in the future is anyone’s guess.”

While there was large applause on two occasions for the stance the Reform Alliance members on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, Ms Creighton said the issue “barely came up in discussion”.

Many people disagreed with their position on abortion, but admired them for taking a stand, she said. “We paid the price when we were expelled from the parliamentary party is something that people recognise and admire. So that explains a lot of it.”

Ms Creighton also accused The Irish Times of having an agenda which opposed the Reform Alliance because of the stance its members took on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill last year.

“It is one that is very much opposed to the position we took last summer,” Ms Creighton said. “I think it is concerned that we mightn’t fit into their agenda. That is certainly how I would interpret a lot of the coverage in the last couple of weeks.”

The last session of the conference focussed on the economy, with speakers including David McWilliams, management consultant Eddie Molloy, venture capitalist Brian Caulfield and Alison Cowzer, managing director of The Company of Food.

An earlier session on political reform heard contributions from broadcasters Olivia O’Leary and Tom McGurk, political scientist Jane Suiter and Phillip Blond, a former advisor to British prime minister David Cameron.

Ms O’Leary called for an end to clientelist politics, and the introduction of single seat constituencies.

She also said that while she did not agree with the abortion stance taken by Reform Alliance members, she said she would “defend to the death” their right to make those decisions.

Mr Blond said the Seanad should be empowered, and called for voters to be given the opportunity to recall TDs they believed had behaved “appallingly”.

During the discussion on political reform, one contributor said women did not have the attributes to push themselves into the political arena, which led another speaker to call it the “worst contribution” they had ever heard.

There was also huge applause when one speaker said the majority of Reform Alliance had been expelled for keeping their promises on abortion.

However, another speaker called on the TDs and senators to apologise for what he described as their part in the “mess we are in”.

“We need a new political party like we need a hole in the head,” the speaker added.

The healthcare panel included Ed Walsh, the founding president of the University of Limerick, as well as Dr Jimmy Sheehan, the co-founder of the Blackrock and Galway clinics.

Mr Sheehan drew a standing ovation for a presentation suggesting the new children’s hospital should be located in Blanchardstown, not the Government choice of St James’s Hospital.

Mr Walsh called for greater privatisation of the health service, with other speakers calling for the “O’Leary-isation” of the sector to achieve efficiencies and better management.

Mr Walsh also said it took Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary to make Aer Lingus more competitive and efficient, and said a further €3 billion health cuts are needed.

As well as Reform Alliance members, the attendees included Independent TD Mattie McGrath and Senator Ronan Mullen.