Analysis: Renua Ireland think-in provides actual thinking

Party tries to inject some adrenaline into comatose concept with Dublin event

Lucinda Creighton, leader of Renua Ireland,  during the party’s first think-in in Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Lucinda Creighton, leader of Renua Ireland, during the party’s first think-in in Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

When you have to endure them every September, you realise the term “political party think-in” does violence to the English language.

Once upon a time they had some meaning, such as when Fianna Fáil was discovering socialism in Inchdoney 2004, or when Fine Gael’s Richard Bruton was preparing the first paper warning about the escalating costs of benchmarking in 2003.

Sure there are always guest speakers, and there are stabs at coming up with “eye-catching initiatives”.

But a long time ago, they became essentially the first media opportunity of the season, as entertaining and meaningless as the Community Shield in English soccer.

The think-in reached its nadir in 2010, when Brian Cowen shipped major political damage from what had become a “drink-in” in Galway.

Yesterday, Renua Ireland held its first think-in in Dublin City Centre. Was the party jumping on the bandwagon (the others will hold theirs over the next two weeks), or was it trying to inject some adrenaline into the comatose concept?

The latter more than the former, although Renua is just as adept as its rivals in gobbling up media opportunities.

Core policies

At the time of its launch, the party suffered some ridicule for not having complete policies in the core areas of health, the economy, or justice.

In its defence, Renua argued that they were not in the business of producing glib and superficial policy papers, and that its big-ticket policies would be works in progress throughout 2015.

They would be prepared with input and online consultation from members, who would have the ultimate say in direction.

We are still waiting to see what Renua will say on those issues, but the D-Date of Budget day is looming for its economic policies.

In recent months, the party has accelerated its policy development with a raft of publications.

Most have focused on entrepreneurship and SMEs, Renua’s natural constituency.

Another new policy position was disclosed yesterday, a little by chance. First businessman Declan Ganley argued trenchantly for a flat tax.

And then Eddie Hobbs revealed that this classic Milton Friedman concept was being developed by Renua and was at an advanced stage.

It’s not everybody’s cup of lemon tea, and will be highly controversial. But if you look at the paucity of ideas emerging from elsewhere, this party is at least attempting to bring new thinking to political discourse.

As with its desire not to be pigeonholed as a bunch of Fine Gael refuseniks, Renua does not want to be perceived as PDs Nua.

So it has come out with slightly left-field positions on, for example, measuring social progress, and has been very strong on the refugee issue.

Its argument and philosophy was put succinctly by Lucinda Creighton towards the end the meeting.

“If you are in favour of tax reductions, you are a bad evil right-winger. If you want to increase tax, you are a caring kindhearted loving person.”

Business friendly

So where stands Renua? Geared towards business. It has attracted a number of interesting candidates.

It has also lost a few, including James Charity and Jonathan Irwin, the latter for health reasons.

Creighton herself has a big personality and is a strong figurehead.

It’s a crowded field, and the party will have its work cut out to gain its target of double figures.

That said, its strategy to focus on policy and ideas is probably the right one.

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