‘Southside Evita’ has true ability

Lucinda Creighton has never been afraid to express her opinion and always divided opinion in Fine Gael, writes political correspondent Shaun Connolly.

DUBBED the “Southside Evita” by some for the very public way she conducted her campaign against the X case bill, Lucinda Creighton has always divided opinion.

A minister of ability, clearly headed for the Cabinet table, Ms Creighton has been forced to decide between ambition and conviction.

But it is hardly the first time the Dáil’s one-woman political publicity machine has generated headlines.

Right from the off, Ms Creighton courted controversy as her selection for the leafy Dublin South-East seat that was once Garret Fitzgerald’s power base, raised eyebrows as she raised her profile.

Concerns were prompted by the high number of people registering for the candidate selection convention with local addresses seen as somewhat transitory as they were care of places like local pubs.

The influx was believed to favour law graduate Ms Creighton in a tough battle with a fellow councillor, but once he had been bundled out of the way, the party machine decided to let the matter drop, and Lucinda began her ramraid leap into the national consciousness, blasting PD leader Micheal McDowell out of the way and out of the Dáil in the subsequent general election.

Saddled with the moniker “Blonde Ambition” by male rivals who lacked her drive, Ms Creighton quickly carved out a niche for herself after joining the socially conservative, thrusting Thatcherite fresh intake of Blueshirt blood in 2007, with Leo Varadkar her only rival for top dog of the new breed.

Having never tried too hard to hide her disdain for Enda Kenny’s leadership, Ms Creighton was an enthusiastic backer for Richard Bruton’s botched attempt at regicide — the taking down of the king — in the failed coup of Jun 2010.

The rebels expected Mr Kenny to roll over and accept defeat, but he, and right-hand man Phil Hogan, rallied the backwoods men and women and turned it into a battle between the grass roots and what they portrayed as a detached metropolitan elite — a divide and rule tactic that won the day.

Mr Kenny was magnanimous in victory and publicly forgave Ms Creighton by giving her the prime post of Europe minister as Ireland headed for the presidency of the EU.

But a fellow leading rebel insists Ms Creighton did not return the favour: “Lucinda never got over the heave. Enda forgave her — which was big of him, but she can’t forgive Enda — or more precisely those people around him like Phil Hogan. She’s always very hard on Enda — behind his back.

“Leo making Cabinet didn’t help things either, Leo is the model of post-heave rehabilitation, but Lucinda did not like the fact he leap-frogged her. Leo learned the ropes faster than her and proved himself to be better at it than her — that hurt.”

Insiders say FG high command is relaxed about any attempt Ms Creighton may make to rally rebels around her and create a Fine-Gael-In-Exile, waiting for the day they can return to a true blueshirt banner under another leader.

But what real threat could a defacto new party — The Lucindanistas — pose to the Coalition?

As one Fine Gael minister puts it: “Apart from the X case legislation — which no one will care about in the autumn — what are they going to oppose? Are they seriously going to demand bigger gets in child benefit — and if they do won’t that just make us look better if we get fire from the right?”

One thing is for sure though, outside the party whip Ms Creighton will try and inflict as much damage as possible on Mr Kenny in a series of explosive interviews. But, like ousted Labour chairman Colm Keaveney, that is a game of diminishing returns and in a Dáil set-up so dominated by the Executive, the party machine always comes out on top in the end.

Ms Creighton, 33, is rarely afraid to speak her mind, as proved in 2010 when just weeks after the coup failed, she went out of her way to rip FG’s post-heave wounds open again, accusing Mr Kenny and Co of “cute hoorism”.

Her demands for an end to events aimed at securing funds from Nama developers would later provoke a high profile court case for defamation which led to Ms Creighton making an apology to businessman Michael O’Flynn, and paying some of his legal costs.

Married to Cork senator Paul Bradford, who is 16 years older than her, Ms Creighton is one of the handful of Irish politicians recognisable by their first name, and once again divides opinion with many in Fine Gael convinced her resignation is part of a bigger plan yet to unfold, while others think she is ready to quit.

Unintentionally hinting at the sexism Ms Creighton has often complained of, one (male) minister said: “I don’t think she actually enjoys politics — I wouldn’t be surprised if she hangs up her handbag after this.”

But there is little love lost for Lucinda on the Fine Gael back benches which she enraged when she attacked their “group think” mentality on the X case legislation.

“She’s been posturing like some kind of Southside Evita,” as one put it.

But as the ex-minister simmers on the opposition benches, Mr Kenny must wonder if he is now facing Nightmare on Creighton St — Lucinda Frighten.

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