herald

Monday 23 October 2017

'The concerns I had not just about Enda Kenny but about the party are still there'

Political Reporter Kevin Doyle meets Fine Gael rebel Lucinda Creighton, who says that telling it like it is has got her into all sorts of political hot water

SHE sees herself as "lowly backbencher" who is outspoken but Lucinda Creighton isn't making any apologies for it.

The Fine Gael TD has taken on developers, was part of the "urban upstarts" who rose against Enda Kenny and is now ready to battle with RTE -- but she insists: "If I see something wrong, I will say it."

In recent months some colleagues have sent emails calling her "disloyal" and "a traitor" but she's sticking to her guns.

Having been stereotyped as one of Richard Bruton's cappuccino-drinking yuppies, it might come as a surprise to some that Ms Creighton is actually from Enda Kenny's home county of Mayo.

And it is there that she has felt the worst backlash for "betrayal" in recent months.

In fact, she has revealed to the Herald that the aggression felt by some members reached levels that surpassed anything she was used to in politics.

Preposterous

"There's a cohort of people who have been very aggressive to me, from my home county, and I think that's very sad. They feel that there is something wrong with me because I voted against Enda. I think it's quite preposterous simply because we're from the same county."

Back in Leinster House, there is also "still an amount of healing to be done".

"A lot of people were hurt by the whole experience. It's kind of hard to know why that is," she says, speculating that it was because of the perceived rural/urban divide.

Asked whether she is now happy to let the dust rest on the row, she replies that the "leadership issue was settled in June".

But she adds: "The concerns that I had in June, not just about Enda Kenny but about the party and the stagnation in the party, are still there. We all have to up our game in a very big, serious fashion and very quickly.

"I took the position I took for a lot of reason, not just Enda as leader. It was the management of the party, how the parliamentary party operates, how decision making happens and even the definition of the party."

She accepts that her stance is going to damage her career in the short to medium term, but says: "I don't see a problem with being outspoken. I think it's very easy to label people.

"I believe we fundamentally need to change our electoral system. It's totally outdated. This idea that everybody is supposed to sing off the same hymn sheet and not have original ideas, or you suddenly start getting emails calling you a traitor or disloyal."

She argues that Fine Gael has lost the "edginess" it had when she was elected in 2007, particularly in urban areas where Labour is ruling.

"People in Fine Gael started to panic because they [Labour] weren't saying anything about public service. People thought maybe we should stop saying things about public service and then we'll go up in the polls as well. That's not the way the world works."

The barrister adds: "The problems we are now experiencing in this country are an exact result of people not speaking up. If people had spoken up we would have avoided largely the kind of catastrophe that we're in."

She insists that she will make "no apologies for speaking when I see something that I don't feel comfortable with".

That attitude has regularly attracted trouble and not just in the political circle. In 2007, Ms Creighton had a very public spat when she accused developer Sean Dunne of using "bully boy" tactics.

Bosom

At the height of the planning rows over Mr Dunne's Ballsbridge proposals, Ms Creighton alleged that his supporters hijacked a public meeting but she denies falling out with him because she never "fell in" with him in the first place.

"I wasn't exactly bosom buddies with him," she laughs, before explaining that she blames people like Mr Dunne for pushing up the costs of houses "for people of our generation".

"We now either live in matchboxes or are destined to rent for the foreseeable future. I don't have any regrets about my position on that," she says.

The TD recently became involved in another planning dispute with another powerful opponent -- RTE.

The national broadcaster is seeking permission for a massive redevelopment on its Montrose site -- in the heart of her constituency -- at a cost of €350m.

"Really the thing that's motivating me is that we need a primary school in Donnybrook and a new site for the existing primary school is over capacity.

"There are 50 kids being turned away every year and RTE is the only land available in the whole of Donnybrook," she says.

"It's the perfect site. We are trying to convince An Bord Pleanala that RTE should give over two-and-a-half acres for a school, which is not unusual. RTE just don't seem to be too keen to do it the way we want to it," she claims.

Although she maintains that she hasn't decided whether she'll even run in the next election, the ambitious representative knows where she wants her career to go.

"I'd like to be at the top table formulating policy. Any politician worth their salt would want to be in the Department of Finance because that's where the big decisions are going to be taken. That's where recovery is going to begin," she says, adding that justice and education would be two other passions.

And her assessment of the public finances has led her to go against the party line yet again in warning that Fine Gael should try to reach a consensus with Fianna Fail on the upcoming four-year budgetary plan.

"If we don't put in place a really credible plan for the next four years, not just the budget but also with reform, I just don't see how we can avoid the IMF coming in.

"We have to [be involved] because it will be virtually impossible to change it ... " the TD explained.

There are only two topics that she does shy away from -- women in politics and her upcoming wedding.

Despite being one of the Dail's most high-profile women, she is hesitant to discuss the burden of the fairer gender because people see that "as whingeing".

"You have to be tough. I struggle with that sometimes. I'm not always as tough as I'd like to be. You have to be able to take all sorts of abuse.

"If you speak out or have any opinions, you're always going to get a certain amount of ridicule and I think women find that very hard. I think women engender a strong reaction," she admits.

Quota

But she is totally against gender quotas, arguing that political parties can change the system without new rules if they want to.

"I think that often times if the right intimidation tactics are used, women are like 'I couldn't be bothered'. That's where the party needs to intervene, not with a gender quota."

Outside Leinster House she is "sporty" and her biggest distraction is preparation for the Dublin city marathon which she's running for St Luke's Hospice.

That's this year's extra-curricular activity but 2011 her mind will switch to wedding plans.

She is engaged to a fellow Fine Gaeler, Senator Paul Bradford, but is somewhat coy about their plans.

"It'll be sometime next year. It'll be low-key, I wouldn't be into big weddings.

"Maybe abroad, I don't know, maybe in Dublin. We've talked about it but we haven't made any firm decisions," she says.

kdoyle@herald.ie

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