SO THAT’S what you meant, Lucinda Creighton, by “a politics of substance, not of sound-bites.” You have risked your political career for your beliefs. Even if the boys are right when they say you will pay the penalty for making your party sweat, you can sleep easy at night.
No-one who remembers the famous ‘biscuit tin’ speech at the Magill Summer School, in Donegal in 2010 — the admonition of Fine Gael for its fund-raising methods — should be surprised. The image of the slightly rusty USA Assorted tin, rattling with bank notes, was unforgettable.
That speech is compelling reading in the context of your stance, in recent weeks, on the abortion bill. You lambasted blind adherence to the “party line” and said: “The lack of ambition amongst all political parties, as well as their studious dodging of courageous political positions, leaves me cold.”
Long before you felt its lash, you fingered the whip system: “In Ireland, the most stringent form of whip, the three-line whip, is imposed for every single vote. This demonstrates, to me, a lack of confidence among political parties. It shows an immature democracy, which urgently needs to grow up to meet the needs of a mature people. It also creates a fertile environment for mediocrity to flourish, where politicians are enabled and, indeed, encouraged to avoid individual responsibility.”
You have not dodged your individual responsibility. Though, I think, you believe in party loyalty, you do not think it should be blind. You made that plain in your Magill speech.
Unlike your party leader, you didn’t rummage in the dress-up box for old ‘blue shirts’ when you were seeking examples of bravery in political life. You reached for the example of Des O’Malley, a Fianna Fáil politician who stood up to Charles Haughey for the basic right of consenting adults to contraception.
O’Malley was expelled from FF for this position, but refused to go out with a whimper. He founded the Progressive Democrats, through which he had a massive impact on Irish society — for good, you might say, though I might say for ill.
It was a chapter in the PDs’ history, not of your own party, that you used to illustrate the meaning of political courage: “I remember watching the first conferences of the PDs on television, in 1986, and believing that Dessie O’Malley had some profound higher calling, based on his willingness to challenge the all-powerful Charles J. Haughey.
“As a child, I genuinely believed that Des O’Malley was a true patriot — and I thought there could be no higher aspiration than to become a politician, and aim to bring truth and honour into public life in Ireland.”
You were aged six at the time. But you had high hopes. High-as-the-sky, apple-pie hopes. How could anyone have thought you would give up on them?
Men. I hate to be sexist, because there are so many exceptions. But a woman who has made up her mind is unlikely to be dissuaded by talk of promotion or better terms.
It’s just not going to mean enough to her. That’s not only true in political life. In 2005, a famous Harvard Business Review study found more than half of high-profile professional women jumping off their career tracks. At first, this was attributed to family responsibilities. Then, someone did something astonishing: asked the women.
The women said it wasn’t about family at all. They just weren’t interested in the career ladder. It didn’t mean anything to them. They didn’t want to scramble up, rung by rung, until they got a gold watch. The Harvard Business Review study suggested employers come up with new strategies for keeping women in their jobs, such as giving them projects in which they believe.
I can identify with that and I imagine you can, too.
I don’t buy all the whispers in Leinster House that, as the Irish Independent said, you have your own “five-point plan”. I don’t believe, as the Sunday Business Post, said, that your stance on abortion “coincides with your ambition to carve out a niche position as a key opinion-former in Fine Gael”.
I think it’s simple — you didn’t want to be a hypocrite. You know abortion is not a treatment for suicidal ideation. You believe that if the unborn is a human being under the Constitution, the unborn should have legal representation against someone seeking to end his or her life.
You know that not laying down a set number of weeks into a pregnancy after which an abortion cannot be performed makes the law unfit for a civilised society. And that it could open the door to horrors, such as a baby being delivered prematurely in a (failed) attempt to stop a mother’s mental anguish.
You needed assurances that your worst fears about the bill would not be realised. As it stood, it wasn’t a Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. It was a Protection of Coalition During Recession Bill.
I have one humdinger of an example of the politics of the “party line” that you excoriated in your Magill speech. I was at the Magill Summer School that year. Having even less of an instinct for self-preservation than you, I brought it up with some of the Fine Gael faithful. I was told, in no uncertain terms, that your problem was your religion. You were a far-right, rosary-wielding, bonkers, backward Catholic.
But you said, in your speech in the Dáil on Jul 1, that abortion has nothing to do with religion for you. You say it’s a “human rights issue”. On which, as a student, you took the opposite view.
When you had rattled the party stalwarts so much, why did Enda give you that Junior Ministry for European Affairs? He was scared of you, that’s why. You’re Dorothy to his Tin Man. Don’t you forget it.
YOU have youth. You have talent. You have looks. You have brains. Now you have been seen to have integrity. You have what they want. Don’t you forget it.
It will be their loss, not yours, if they make you suffer for having made them sweat. Younger voters don’t give a toss, nowadays, for the old ‘blue shirts’ from the dressing-up box. They will vote for you, even if you made life difficult for Fine Gael for a while.
I can’t pretend I’m not a little scared of that prospect.
I think you have a big political future and powerful, blonde, right-wing women leaders give me the willies.
I doubt I would vote for you, even if I still lived in Dublin South East. As you clearly said on RTÉ’s Prime Time, in the run-up to the last election, you are “centre right”, and I don’t think we have much in common, politically.
But I’m grateful to the politician who spells our her political position and doesn’t try to be all things to all men and women.
We will agree to differ on many, many things, but not on this: truth matters.
You have told the truth and you have made the truth matter.
I respect you for it.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved