Senior Independents in Leinster House are set to spurn an invitation to attend the first Reform Alliance conference, dealing a blow to the effort by the dissident Fine Gael group to expand its political base.
TDs Stephen Donnelly and Shane Ross, and Senators Katherine Zappone and and Feargal Quinn, have all said they will not attend the event in Dublin on Saturday week. Neither will they be joining the alliance.
Each was publicly cited as a potential attendee by former junior minister Lucinda Creighton, the leading Reform Alliance figure. The group insists it is not moving to form a party, but many political observers believe it is.
The conference is seen as an attempt to build a reformist base beyond the anti-abortion stance that led Ms Creighton and her six colleagues in the alliance to lose the Fine Gael whip last year.
Former PD leader Michael McDowell has also said he will not attend the conference. His return to the fray in the Seanad referendum has prompted speculation he might join a new political movement.
While Ms Creighton said Mr Donnelly had expressed an interest in attending the event, the Wicklow TD made it clear yesterday he would not go along. "I wish them the very best and I think anything which challenges the the cartel that is Irish politics is welcome," said Mr Donnelly.
Mr Ross, TD for Dublin South, said he would be delighted to discuss any ideas with the Reform Alliance but not in a "formal atmosphere" that would be interpreted as giving "formal support" to the group.
Mr Quinn said he had not been invited to join and had no intention to do so. “I intend to retire from the Seanad at the end of the current term – otherwise, I’ll get a divorce,” he said.
Similarly, Ms Zappone said she would not attend the meeting and does not intend joining the alliance.
Ms Creighton noted she had supported the Seanad retention campaign of Democracy Matters, of which Mr Quinn, Ms Zappone and Mr McDowell were leading members. “Obviously, I would have expected that the same open-minded approach would apply to others. Maybe it doesn’t.”
Ms Creighton insisted there was no setback and that conference preparations have exceeded expectations. Some 600 people have asked for tickets and a few hundred more expressed interest in the group’s work.