Independent TD Lucinda Creighton yesterday borrowed a technology metaphor when announcing she is to launch a new political party in the spring. Exhibiting evangelical zeal, Ms Creighton declared: “We want to reboot Ireland and we want those who are as passionate about this country as we are to join us on this mission”.
Flanked by Eddie Hobbs and independent councillor John Leahy, the former Fine Gael deputy told a press conference in Dublin freedom of thought, difference and independence will be the defining features of the new political party and the new political system which she and her colleagues hope to shape.
All very lofty sentiments, but the question is whether this new movement will embrace the past or look to the future.
The political landscape is littered with the corpses of political parties that began with a bang and ended in a whimper. Ms Creighton and her colleagues are doubtless aware the history of minor political parties in Ireland is not a happy one. Some recent political movements have had a shorter lifespan than others. The Green Party entered into government in 2007, yet was all but wiped out within four years. As academics Liam Weeks and Alistair Clark point out in a recent book on smaller political movements in Ireland, while the type of party has varied, their fate has not. “The usual pattern is a speedy ascent, an impact on the political system including a time in government, followed by a prolonged death,” they argue in Radical or Redundant? Minor Parties in Irish Politics.
The Progressive Democrats enjoyed a longer period in the sun. Launched in 1985, it made an impressive debut at the 1987 General Election, winning 14 Dáil seats and surpassing Labour as Ireland’s third-largest party. However, while it entered coalition with Fianna Fáil three times, it never matched its initial popularity and was dissolved in 2009.
There is little doubt the traditional parties have suffered major disenchantment with voters. To borrow another metaphor, Irish politics is mostly ‘male, pale and stale’.
Support for Fine Gael and Labour has declined from a combined 38% a year ago to 27.5%, the biggest joint loss for the government parties since the coalition took office in 2011.
While Ms Creighton insists she is not attempting to launch another traditional party, the principles on which it is to be founded appear vaguely familiar. They include building an economy for entrepreneurs, giving politics back to the people and measuring government with a clear social target.
Will this new party become the PDs Mark II? Yes and no. Despite being regarded as inhabiting the far right of Irish politics, the PDs, in fact, were founded on both social and economic liberalism. Its economic policies were partly responsible for the emergence of the Celtic Tiger and its social policies were most in tune with the general public.
PDs founder Des O’Malley was both an economic and social liberal. Ms Creighton is not. While she has a pro-business agenda, she is socially conservative. It will take more than a new economic vision to change Irish politics. Ms Creighton must win both hearts and minds if she is to make a difference.
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