A Creigh-zy Idea: Can Lucinda reboot the political system?

Everyone wants to know if Lucinda Creighton’s new political party can reboot a system designed for the boys, by the boys

Independent TD Lucinda Creighton has formally announced the creation of a new political party, which as of yet has no official name but aims to ‘reboot Ireland’. At a press conference on Jan 2nd, Creighton was joined by TV personality Eddie Hobbs and Independent Offaly Councillor John Leahy in announcing the new party based on four key principles that will guide their new political movement.

The four principles, which include “creating a political system that supports freedom of thought, difference and independence” (which attracted much criticism from political commentators) and “building a new economy that supports workers, entrepreneurs, employees and consumers of small business” have been labelled as  “lacking in passion and purpose”. Creighton argued that she would provide a party name, policies and candidates during the next eight weeks after a series of public meetings nationwide.

The public meetings are part of a campaign to bolster the “100 strong” core team already in place of volunteer actuaries, IT consultants and researchers. The party hopes to run at least one candidate in every constituency at the next general election. Following the press conference there have been no major candidate announcements. Eddie Hobbs refused to rule out the possibility of running for election, but said that he had joined the party because he felt let down by traditional parties. Creighton stressed that the party was neither right nor left wing, stating “As far as I’m concerned, the right-wing model of an overriding free market has completely failed and, equally, I don’t think I need to explain how socialism has failed in the latter part of the last century.”

Creighton, a 34 year old barrister from Claremorris, Co. Mayo, was expelled from the Fine Gael party in 2013 and lost her position as Minister of State for EU Affairs after defying the party whip and voting against the controversial Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill. The absence of the whip in her new political party will allow members the freedom to adopt their own personal standpoint on social issues, but the whip is expected to apply on other issues if the party becomes elected.

UCD Politics Professor David O’Farrell disagrees with the practicalities of the absence of a party whip. “When you’re in the heat of the hunt as a minority government made up of this alliance trying to put a tough budget through what’s to stop that government trying to pick off individual members of the alliance? Ultimately it’s very hard to find any parliament where parties are not in control of the parliament- its only in tiny little micro states like the Isle of Man or little island states in the Pacific like Toovaloo which are so small that it’s possible to find any parliament where it’s individual MPs. Once you go past that critical size you need to have organised parties with some degree of discipline, so you need to have some kind of whipping system.”

Perhaps the biggest threat to Creighton’s party is the newly formed alliance established by Shane Ross and Michael Fitzmaurice. Their political grouping also seeks to abolish the party whip and hopes to have at least one candidate contesting a seat in every constituency. Independent TDs including Stephen Donnelly, Mattie McGrath, Noel Grealish and John Halligan have all confirmed that they will be part of the alliance.

The current political system in Ireland does not lend itself to supporting newly formed parties but instead is favourable to the incumbents. Creighton’s new party will receive no state funding, in contrast to Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour who receive a combined total of €62 million of taxpayers’ money. The allocation of state funding is based on the number of elected representatives and this money cannot be spent on election campaigns. In Fine Gael’s case, the party continues to reap the financial benefits of Creighton’s election to the Dáil on the party ticket at the last general election, even though she is no longer a Fine Gael member. The same is true for the other party members who have since become Independent TDs. As a result Creighton’s new party will receive no state funding until members are elected in 2016.

One of the major logistical challenges that Creighton faces is raising €1million in small donations over the coming months in order to finance the election campaign. She will not be able to rely on large donations as currently an individual can donate a maximum of €2,500 without declaring it, and declared donations can rise to a maximum of €6,348. “Whether it’s Lucinda Creighton or anybody else who creates a new party, they start at a huge disadvantage because of our finance rules which create an even tougher hurdle now than they did in the 1980s when Des O’Malley set up the Progressive Democrats,” says Professor Farrell.

Officially the staff who work on election campaigns are funded by independent donations and their own personal money. However it is commonplace for existing party staff whose wages are paid by the state to work on policy development and in an organisational and structural capacity before elections.

One of the advantages of setting up a new political party in 2015 is that Creighton and her colleagues will not be completely reliant on traditional type media such as national newspapers, RTÉ and expensive advertisements. Using the power of social media, the party will be able to reach voters using inexpensive tools such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Data collection and analysis could also prove to be useful in monitoring voter engagement and gauging the effectiveness of their campaign. The way in which people consume media has changed dramatically even since the last general election in 2011 and now it is easier than ever before to reach voters in a cheap and effective way

“With all due respect to Lucinda Creighton I don’t see this as the vehicle for the big change that the constituency of voters out there are looking for. I don’t see this as the Progressive Democrats of the 2000s, it’s quite a different kind of entity- so I would’ve thought that her party isn’t in the right space to make a breakthrough”, says Professor Farrell. There is no doubt that Creighton faces many obstacles over the coming months and though Reboot Ireland may not succeed in the way it intends to, it cannot be denied that a challenge to the current political status quo and a fresh set of ideas could potentially be a welcome addition to Irish politics.