The Reform Alliance gears up


The significance of recent elections will be tested in coming months as members of the Reform Alliance, exiled from Fine Gael, attempt to establish a political party. Having been rebuffed by members of the Oireachtas last January because of their close connections with an anti-abortion campaign, they are now targeting Independents and sitting TDs and offering freedom of conscience votes on moral issues.

With Fine Gael likely to lose a large number of seats in a general election and Fianna Fáil becalmed, the timing is propitious. Independents and Others have emerged with the second largest number of council seats and three European seats. Newly elected councillors may be looking for a supporting structure, while Oireachtas members have their future prospects to consider.

In that context, however, the economic agenda being advanced by the nascent party will not fit comfortably with an anti-austerity rhetoric. So, in spite of fragmentation and large-scale desertions in recent years, it would be unwise to draw the curtain on traditional parties. Voters may be disillusioned, but they are innately conservative. The popularity of Independents or of any new party will depend on their ability to deliver what they promise.

Promoters of the suggested “Independent Alliance” are reluctant to commit themselves. They advocate budgetary discipline and free market policies. Nothing terribly original there. They would limit ministerial service to a single term, cap Oireachtas salaries, and abolish ministerial pensions, ideas that may carry voter appeal, but their chances of implementation in government are remote. At the heart of their draft manifesto is a commitment to reform the Dáil whip system and allow for free votes on matters of conscience. Changes to this excessively rigid and punitive system of parliamentary discipline are long overdue. But the question of whether “matters of conscience” should extend to social issues remains unclear.