Following a successful “Monster Rally” in Dublin at the weekend, a Sunday Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll showed while support for a new party was at 35%, it was down 11 points since last November. After the day-long rally at the RDS, which was attended by a crowd of 1,350, the movement’s high-profile Lucinda Creighton insisted its formation was not about the “perpetuation of party politics” but left the door open to the possibility saying “what happens in the future is anybody’s guess”.
Likewise Galway Senator Fidelma Healy Eames hinted it was on the horizon; “I’m not saying we’ll never set up a political party… we may.”
The conference focused on the three main themes of political, health and economic reform and there was lively debate throughout.
Ms Creighton, the former Fine Gael junior minister, told the packed RDS that from Liberty Hall to Leinster House there were people who viewed the exit from the bailout as an opportunity to return to the “good old days where the public purse is expanded, competitiveness collapses and those same property moguls are reinstalled as the driving force of the Irish economy”.
However the biggest cheer of the day and a standing ovation came during her end-of-day address, when she said seven TDs and senators’ stance on the abortion legislation was based on “honesty and truth”.
Asked if she was bothered that the loudest cheers of the day were on pro-life issues, Ms Creighton replied it was hardly mentioned all day, saying people admired them for paying the price of being expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party.
Earlier, broadcaster Olivia O’Leary called for the introduction of single-seat constituencies and an end to clientelist politics.
She said it was worrying there were too few women in the audience and later a contributor from the floor claimed women lacked the attributes to push themselves into the political arena. “That’s the worst comment I’ve ever heard”, was the reply of a female delegate.
Man calling for 50% gender quota. Getting boo-ed & heckled. Although he did then say that women can't take the heat of politics #reform— Frances Byrne (@FraffieB) January 25, 2014
Former adviser to British prime minister David Cameron, Phillip Blond, described as an anti-Thatcher conservative, insisted the RA had a nine-month opportunity to set up a new political party, saying the size and powers of the Seanad should be expanded and the public should have a right to recall TDs if they had behaved “appallingly”.
#Reform conference in Dublin about reforming Irish politics still packed at the end of the day - still standing room only - amazing success— Phillip Blond (@Phillip_Blond) January 25, 2014
Another speaker claimed Ireland needed a new political party “like a hole in the head” and called on the TDs and senators to apologise for the mess they’d left the country in.
One of the most lively debates surrounded the health system and a co-founder of the Blackrock Clinic, Dr Jimmy Sheehan, received widespread applause when he quoted the late US president Calvin Coolidge who said raising taxes while wasting money was theft.
He said the Cabinet chose “the worst possible site” when it decided to locate the National Children’s Hospital at St James’s in Dublin. He said the greenfield site at Blanchardstown would be “cheaper and faster” and described the present system of decision-making in healthcare as “an absolute shambles”.
Jimmy Sheehan would fund new children's hospital through philanthropy provided gov hand over earmarked €200million #Reform— Audrey Ellard Walsh (@AudreyEWalsh) January 25, 2014
As the day progressed the contributions varied, from calls for the “Michael O’Leary-isation” of the health service to advocating a US-style constitutional amendment which would require a 75% majority in the Dáil if Government expenditure was to exceed national income.
Former Fine Gael TD and RA member Peter Mathews called for all 11 newly elected MEPs in May to insist on a €53bn write-down on national debt while economist David McWilliams, who chaired one of the debates, said countries in far worse positions than Ireland had recovered.
As expected, most politicians stayed away except for Senator Ronan Mullen and Independent TD Mattie McGrath.