Oireachteas Retort picks apart the hype and bluster of Lucinda Creighton’s Renua to reveal a brand that is nothing more than a reheated bowl of the same political tripe she claims to have left behind.
It will come as unwelcome news to many of you but there are not just one or two – but three Lucinda Creightons.
First, there is Lucinda Creighton. A woman from Claremorris, County Mayo. A TCD graduate, barrister and former Fine Gael TD, who I am sure is just lovely, personally.
Then there is Lucinda Creighton, the media construction. A tough talker, a maverick, a political profile sustained almost entirely by press culture that for the most part flattens issues, ignores policy and distils the whole of politics down questions not of power or heaven forbid class, but competing personalities.
Take for instance the recent Garda scandals. One could easily have come away under the impression that problems lay simply with minister Alan Shatter and commissioner Martin Callinan. [a line Fennelly is sure to report that Enda Kenny believed himself] But now, after a steady diet of soft media coverage, believe the matter has been resolved with the appointment of Nóirín O’Sullivan and Frances Fitzgerald.
It is why we were constantly told Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan were ‘decent’ & ‘honourable men’ as if it made a blind bit of difference while they drove the country over a cliff.
It is why the Labour Party got rid of Gilmore and continue down an identical doomed road under Joan Burton.
Minister says something on Morning Ireland. Opposition TD then pretends to be outraged and ‘blasts’ Minister. Shortly after, in an exclusive interview, Minister hits back at critics. And repeat.
The same contrived and meaningless cycle plays out every single week.
Open the Irish Times for coverage of yesterday’s proceedings and instead you find Miriam Lord has written a column about the Dáil canteen running out of biscuits. Media generate the appearance of drama and contention in politics while failing to shine a light on the real moves and it is here where Lucinda Creighton the media construction has thrived.
Publishing a profile I am, in a very small way, contributing to this shitheap but even the vapid world of personality politics should have some balance from time to time.
Is it common elsewhere for prime ministers to be known simply as Bertie, Enda and Charlie? I do not think so but in recent months our wisest political commentators have all suggested that first-name recognition is Lucinda’s biggest asset.
She has featured on the cover of the Sunday Independent ‘LIFE’ magazine three times in her short career, at a guess more than any other politician. Each issue with full photo shoot and typically sycophantic feature article inside.
Since getting the boot from Fine Gael, she has been on the cover of the Farmer’s Journal ‘Country Living’ magazine and scarcely off the Sunday Independent front page.
For the editors at Independent Newspapers, she is held aloft as “middle Ireland’s” yin to the yang of Gerry Adams.
The April issue of VIP magazine included a hard hitting four page interview about Lucinda Creighton’s pet dogs and attempts at the Paleo diet. I recently saw the journal.ie tweet about her opinion on cheese. On it goes.
The only exception to this constant is political editor at the Irish Times, who of course favours her constituency and former Fine Gael party colleague, Eoghan Murphy. It is worth noting that the constituency they share had the highest prochoice vote in 1992 nationally and second highest in 2002.
She is often described as “outspoken”. A term never applied to her male colleagues. It is true that just as newspapers have given disproportionate favour to a young woman in the grey world of politics, there is also often a gendered undercurrent to some criticism she receives, but there is more than that too.
Throughout all this time Lucinda Creighton has done or achieved very little. Surely nothing to warrant such exposure. Having a public opinion or taking a hard position on issues is indeed admirable in an Irish politician but is her reputation not more a reflection on the self-interested silence of the majority of seat warmers who inhabit Leinster House?
In this political culture dominated by personality she has always been well placed to garner interest but the mediocrity of both media & politics is quickly exposed.
Behind all this is the third Lucinda Creighton. A political lightweight who has routinely failed to live up to the image. Away from sympathetic media it is difficult to think of a time when she has not been shown up as just another generic right wing politician with absolutely none of the substance we have been led to expect.
She joined Fine Gael in college before becoming a councillor aged 24 and entered the Dáil just three short years later. Now setting up her own political party, it would appear that she is exactly the type of career politician routinely criticised as not having the “practical real world experience” lauded by the business sector she claims to champion.
With not one but two enormous Oireachtas salaries and expenses in the household, as well as farm rental income, it is unlikely that she has ever had to dread another light bill coming in the door.
Indeed, while Renua says it hopes to win the hearts of those disaffected with politics, it is led by someone who once sat on the Vincent Browne show, bewildered and visibly uncomfortable beside a community worker from the north side of Dublin. You got the impression it was not the kind of encounter or story of lived daily reality she is used to.
In fact, when not bolstered by sympathetic journalists her appearances have routinely been an embarrassment. She once claimed there would be no need for the 2012 fiscal compact referendum because these permanent changes were already covered by “one of the treaties”. When asked which one, this barrister and then Ireland’s minister of state for EU Affairs didn’t know. Complete bluster.
A few months later when campaigning in favour of the same referendum, she provided ample comedy by claiming government were about to deliver “millions of jobs”. A target they remain some distance short of and an achievement Stephen Donnelly pointed out had not been seen since the industrial revolution and certainly not possible in the most indebted country on earth. Renua intends to sell itself on economic competence no less but now that she has been cut adrift, what besides her name will mark her from the rest?
Collaboration with people like Karl Deeter, Michael McDowell, Eddie Hobbs, Ronan McMahon, an Independent councillor and close friend of Jim ‘soft landing’ Power who only left Fine Gael after failing to be selected in last year’s election, Lucinda Creighton has aligned herself with high profile people who far from being outside the mainstream, were embedded in boomtime hubris and its failed economics.
Hawkishness on welfare and public sector along with mortifying veneration of “entrepreneurs” and property are nothing new or unique in this country, so how much of a departure are Lucinda Creighton’s right wing politics from everyone else’s, really.
Often proclaimed as the best of Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger and Pope John Paul, she ticks almost all of the usual boxes. Speaking after the general election she said “people voting for me and voting for my colleagues [..] were voting against going soft on cuts”. Two budgets later she conceded that she hoped these same cuts “will never be repeated”. All that intentional misery is great in theory, isn’t it.
On a 2012 episode of the Marian Finucane show, NUIM media studies lecturer Gavan Titley, in contrasting the 20th century experience, linked the ongoing destruction of social provision across the EU with the rise in sentiment and support for the far-right. Creighton’s bizarre and immediate response was to ask “what about Stalin?”
Shortly after her departure from Fine Gael, she was invited to Washington as keynote speaker at something called the “Fourth Transatlantic Think Tank Conference”, which sounds like fun.
It will be recalled by some, and still scattered across a few dormant blogspot pages, that Creighton herself was once lurking around Richard Waghorne’s ‘Freedom Institute’, whose adolescent devotion to “Burke, Hayek and Friedman” generated much derision in the early part of the last decade.
Her American trip was organised by some dubious entity called the ‘International Republican Institute’ which, according to wikipedia at least, spends most of its time and USAID funding trying to organise various coups d’état.
Strange company to keep for someone whose new party expects members to pledge not take up arms against the state and nor “continence allegiance with those who have”. Perhaps more concerned with Gerry than Joe Stalin these days, eh.
Creighton was invited to D.C’s filthy underbelly of neocons, racists, climate deniers and warmongers in her capacity as Vice President of the European People’s Party, who of course wouldn’t have an undemocratic bone in their bodies…
However, despite regularly playing booster for NATO and being a long time advocate of deeper EU military “corporation” (and spending), she does not take the expected position on Palestine.
It would have been easy think Lucinda Creighton remained emphatically in the service of empire but she was quite critical of UN schools being bombed and subsequent loss of life in Gaza last Summer. Other public utterances see her condemning both sides while hoping they ‘engage’. While surprising, this again places her in the standard position of any mainstream Irish politician.
Her opposition to Turkey joining the Union, a “prospect which horrifies most ordinary citizens” apparently, is the quintessential petty racism that views European privilege as just and naturally occurring. Something to be protected from ‘them’ and whatever lays beyond the gates of Vienna. Again nothing original here.
At the 2010 MacGill Summer School she took aim at her own party for hosting a golf fundraiser. She said Fine Gael ran the risk of becoming “Fianna Fáil lite” and called for “an end to cute-hoor politics”. She had to publicly apologise for libelling developer Michael O’Flynn and settled outside of court.
What was never mentioned is that Lucinda Creighton herself is no stranger to accepting money from builders. In 2007 for example, her election campaign was boosted by €1,000 from a developer, and lobbyist with the Small Firms Association, who has since gone on to build James Reilly’s primary care centres in his own constituency of Balbriggan.
Last year it also emerged that Lucinda Creighton had accepted another €1,000 from a man named Andrew Sheehy in 2007. He happened to have the cash handy after failing to declare over €110,000 in rental income from what else?….an extensive property empire.
Sheehy came to light after his brother was appointed to the board of Irish Water in 2013 despite having absolutely no qualifications for the job whatsoever – except of course a relationship with Fine Gael.
And what of Denis O’Brien? In 2012 describing the Moriarty Report findings as “extremely serious”, Lucinda Creighton said she was “uncomfortable” with the Maltese billionaire’s presence at the ‘Global Irish Forum‘ in Dublin Castle.
However, hedging her bets she told journalists that
“Denis O’Brien’s role in his engagement with Bill Clinton in particular, and with Irish diaspora and potential investors, is an important one and I don’t know that, at a time like this, we can afford to turn our back on it.”
O’Brien immediately delivered a threatening letter to her office which among several self-serving turns included the line
“I must also assume my investment in Siteserv in Ireland (by way of example) in which 2,300 jobs were secured also “makes you uncomfortable.”
You must be feeling a bit uncomfortable about that yourself these days, Denis. But not too much I presume.
Lucinda hit back this week taking aim at both O’Brien and her former party colleagues. Whatever the relationship between Mr Redacted and her former party, something she hints at very strongly, she does not consider herself part of it. More to play for here I think.
Her elevation to junior minister for European Affairs was a bit of surprise. The Phoenix suggests that this appointment was part of an effort on Enda Kenny’s part to split the rebels after the failed heave. The promotion of no hopers like Heather Humphreys and Dara Murphy since only adds weight to the theory that political considerations are most primary in Kenny’s appointments.
Underlining the immediate marginalisation of Eamon Gilmore, who ceded such a crucial brief without so much as whimper, EU affairs were taken from his remit and moved under the Department of Taoiseach.
In any case, it transpired that the iron rule of Merkozy meant neither the Taoiseach or his minister of state had much to say or do in Europe. When a register of lobbyists was first mooted it was joked that Kenny & Creighton thought it was about the room they were told to sit quietly in during endless EU summits.
Her stint in office did coincide with Ireland’s presidency of the European Union. She was praised for her efforts during this time – right at home in what was essentially The Gathering crossed with the carnival of technocratic mangerialism the EU has become.
Despite being a lowly minister of state having (as demonstrated by Roisin Shortall’s departure) no real responsibility and thus not entitled to a special adviser, Lucinda Creighton was among those who came to Brendan Howlin’s door claiming “exceptional circumstances”, and hired RTÉ journalist Stephen O’Shea at €62,000 a year.
An additional cost which helped add over one million euro extra to public money wasted every single year on special advisers. A sore public issue that, due to perennial journalistic ignorance, she still gets away with distancing herself from.
But this wasn’t cronyism or hiring party hacks. Not at all. No ‘old politics’ or ‘Fianna Fáil lite’. Having been active in Young Fine Gael since 2007 and after a brief stint at Al Jazeera after Creighton was dethroned, O’Shea has since returned to work at the Fine Gael press office full time.
During this time she published an Irish Times column which railed against an apparent outbreak “anti-German rhetoric” – perhaps instinctively aware that “Germany” in this day and age is nothing to do with geography or but rather a short hand for the European bourgeoisie and global financial power.
However since leaving Fine Gael her own comments on the EU have started to take on similar themes to those she once chided. She is all in favour of accountable institutions and democracy legitimacy now you see.
It is probably fair to say her belief in “Europe” is sincere in the same way someone like Ruairi Quinn’s would be. Elite driven liberalism among a class of people whose living standard will be largely unaffected by recent years but still feel slightly betrayed and let down now the dream has revealed its true intent and teeth.
Writing in March she said that
“It used to be the case that when people spoke of a democratic deficit in Europe, they were referring to legislation being agreed in Europe, imposed on citizens with no effective national oversight. Now however, the democratic deficit is much graver where central bankers, with the support of a few leading Member States are actually shaping societies in individual Member States.
This is not the democratic union envisaged by its founders to bring peace and stability to Europe. In fact, what it this is bringing is discord and despair.”
The debate on Europe is going to grow very large in the years to come. Fianna Fáil, in opposition at least, have softened their traditional nodding dog stance as rising Sinn Féin maintain their current posture at least until Cameron leads Ulster out Europe himself. This is one area where Renua could perhaps force a bit more than the usual EU consensus from parties over on the right. But not much.
To date though Renua is a stumbling morass of bland corporate PR and calamity who have struggled to fake a credible version of what the other parties already offer.
Rhetorically, all this “hard working families” nonsense is closest to David Cameron and the party looks destined to embody all the very worst of petit bourgeois resentment. Olivia O’Leary has likened her to the figure of Pierre Poujade and ultimately, Renua’s only strength is that they are never really going to upset anyone important.
Don’t believe me? See how eager people were to sympathise with Terence Flanagan for not lying to their faces effectively enough. This is a man who not only couldn’t bring himself to vote for a law that so far punishes women more than it helps but is happy to flaunt a vindictive streak and eagerness to abuse state power
A politician’s one job is to talk shit. That’s it. On Drivetime he failed to do so because the Renua launch was such a hail of marketing gibberish that he didn’t know which hollow words to begin with.
He was rewarded for this calamity with a soft Sunday morning interview with Miriam O’Callaghan. The regime really does protect its own
Renua has described itself as “a movement” – as all Irish parties tend to do. Far from her alleged trademark straight-talking this is political language intended to “hide more than it reveals”. After what felt like endless months of hype, it was finally reported that they still had neither support nor donations. As if that clamour the Sunday Independent had been banging on about was complete bullshit all along.
What sets her apart remains the issue for which she was ejected from Fine Gael. According to one unfortunate attendant at her RDS ‘monster meeting’,
“It was a well-attended public meeting but contrary to the claim of a great cross-section of Irish society, it was pretty much middle class South Dublin retired men and some women who go to free things for something to do and from what we could see the younger contingent (i.e. middle aged with a couple of youngsters) were pro-lifers.
There were a lot of press who seemed to be willing an air of excitement about proceedings that wasn’t really there and notwithstanding a bit of interest from the floor about business stuff the only time anyone there was any degree of excitement was when the abortion omertà was broken.”
She has indeed been elevated to status of new Madonna, if chatter on various anti-choice corners of Facebook is to be believed.
Baying newspaper coverage would have suggested otherwise but throughout the months leading to passage of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill she made very few significant public interventions. Breaking silence and speculation only to responded to Olivia O’Leary’s comparison with the Taliban. Creighton published a pretty poor reply on her website that by all appearances relied heavily wikipedia.
In parliamentary terms it was not till the final week that she emerged at the second stage with a list of convoluted hoops for women to jump through. Never again will you hear Lucinda Creighton advocate a level of public spending as would have been needed to meet the the bizarre and degrading solutions she proposed, up to and including that something called “a suicide prevention algorithm shall be formulated”. To finish, she charitably suggested that women should only fear five years in prison after a crisis pregnancy.
In the end, she was the the only woman in Dáil Éireann to vote against the bill on grounds of opposition to abortion. Quite a legacy.
However, the party is anxious to shake off this distinction and will try move closer to ‘catch all’ territory. I personally do not think that this is likely or possible but should she succeed this may potentially alienate that very very tiny minority who will vote on catholic moral issues alone and also – and there is some overlap here – that weird, mostly male, further right who detest what they see as an unprincipled and crowded centre and yearn for their own Paddy or Mary Farage to teach the unions, migrants and feminists a thing or two.
Putting just enough distance between themselves and ‘old politics’ may be worth a few votes but is hard to say. Carlow/Kilkenny by-election isn’t much to go on. Fine Gael picked up only slightly more Renua transfers than Fianna Fáil. Over 1800 Renua votes went to Sinn Féin. Make of that what you will. Creighton by nature will be hammering them, and we can expect more bizarre comments from Jonathan Irwin but the ol’provo scare is already a very crowded field to be ploughing.
The most unseemly bits she claims to detest in Irish public life are actually what keeps parties of her politics going year after year. Fine Gael are growing fat on patronage while Fianna Fáil stagger around like lost lambs unsure what to do with themselves. The PD’s arrived with what they thought was a similar ambition to clean up politics but finished with Mary Harney being no stranger to looking after friends.
Renua have to balance capturing a protest vote while being vehemently opposed to protest. Attacking Fine Gael for not being good enough is all they have really. This could see her locked in some sort of grotesque right wing auction politics where they have to promise another 1000 gardaí on top of whatever Enda Kenny says, louder dog whistles of all sorts, promising to punish poverty and difference even harder while making even more cloying appeals to middle class delusion.
In 2011, she was part of the gang who went against the party leadership to nominate Gay Mitchell for the presidency. Not only did the wounded rebels intend to give Kenny and Hogan a headache but they presumed to know the electorate better than anyone else.
Mistaking the general election as an embrace of Fine Gael rather than the collapse of Fianna Fáil, the thinking was the people were only crying out for more Fine Gael.
Mitchell fitted the bill – unlike leadership candidate, the carpetbagger Pat Cox. And so the electorate were offered “real”, “true”, Fine Gael and it was an utter disaster from start to finish. Mitchell lost his deposit and the money Fine Gael got for re-mortgaging party HQ.
Given other options, voters didn’t want more Fine Gael than Fine Gael themselves.
An omen for Renua, surely.
Illustration by Redmonk