Potentially the most critical political intervention in recent years occurred in the past week, but went largely unremarked. I have in mind the interview given by Lucinda Creighton to the Sunday Independent's political editor, John Drennan.
For the first time, Lucinda Creighton indicated that the Reform Alliance might stand a chance of becoming a serious political force, and that Creighton herself may soon step forward as a rallying figure for the growing numbers of disenchanted citizens now struggling to breathe in this Republic of Fiscal Rectitude and Very Little Else.
Hitherto, the Reform Alliance had been a group united only by a position on abortion and a thinly disguised loathing for the increasingly thuggish Fine Gael leadership.
There was widespread admiration during the summer for the stand taken by Creighton on the abortion legislation – even by people who disagreed with her on the substantive issue. Her Dáil speech in July was one of the finest in that chamber in many years, communicating a vibrant sense of an actual living, breathing human being, with an acute sense of the nuances of Irish political and ideological life.
Most striking was her articulation of a clear and principled belief system that
she subsequently defended at the cost of her ministerial office.
But she had a problem: abortion will not be a significant issue at the next general election. That election will be fought primarily on the Government’s record of economic stewardship and the extent to which it has honoured the contract it made with the electorate in 2011.
Here, Lucinda Creighton has been at a considerable disadvantage, having long been a strong advocate for the Government’s positions on these questions. Throughout her career, she has been an uncompromising Europhile and an advocate of orthodox laissez-faire economics. It has been difficult to see, therefore, how any new movement with Creighton among its key figures could take appropriately differentiated stances on the issues most likely to decide the coming election.
In her interview last weekend, however, she suggested that she is already becoming radicalised by her recent experiences, and has taken lessons from the abortion issue which go to the heart of politics and its nature and purpose. She also showed an acute grasp of the actual feelings on the ground in Ireland now – greatly at odds with the growing mood of self-congratulation in the Government.
Noting that the political system was “failing to respond to the great crisis afflicting working and middle-class families”, she identified significant elements of Fine Gael’s core vote as feeling abandoned by “a disturbing trend where politics appears to be distancing itself from the lives and needs of middle Ireland”. She warned that the gap between the established political parties and the people is accelerating at an alarming rate.
“What I hear from everywhere,” she said, “is that the coping classes are now being squeezed beyond sustainability . . . Increasingly, middle-class and working people who are not wealthy, who live prudent lives . . . are finding it impossible to cope”. She warned that, if this continues, Ireland will become increasingly susceptible to the rise of extremist forces. She said that the death of aspiration and hope for many people throughout Europe is now the defining challenge for politics.
I hope I’m not doing her a disservice in saying that I can’t imagine Lucinda Creighton speaking like this a year ago. She has undoubtedly understood something about the public mood. But it is also clear that she has understood in precise terms the nature of her present state of disadvantage as a potential leader of popular dissent towards the present drift of Irish politics. That interview repositions her in a significant way, and amounts to a radical declaration of intent.
As Creighton says, the defining characteristics of the political context right now is that working people are on the point of outright despair. This despair has no means of articulation in the political system. The Government, for obvious reasons, cannot articulate it. Fianna Fáil, trapped by its own failure adequately to analyse the economic situation and exonerate itself under particular headings, is snookered also. Sinn Féin seeks to juggle too many minor constituencies, and the Independents are mainly bonkers.
Ireland desperately needs a new political energy which speaks to the real needs of the people rather than the vested interests of our EU masters and/or the international gaming hicksters.
It needs politicians to take the radical step of representing those who have elected them and in particular those who work hard, are prepared to pay legitimate taxes but feel they have become the soft touches of a dysfunctional and morally bankrupt system. Cometh the hour, cometh the woman.