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Sunday 17 December 2017

Can Lucinda turn Technical Group into a real force?

So Lucinda Creighton wants to create a new political force after all. It's just not the one that anyone expected.

By applying to join the Dail Technical Group, she and her Reform Alliance colleagues are set to shift the balance of power in Leinster House - an important development as the countdown to a general election begins.

Ever since Creighton departed Fine Gael over last year's abortion controversy, she has been the subject of intense rumours about the possibility of a new centre-right party.

Despite plenty of coy hints and a so-called 'monster meeting' in the RDS, nothing has come of this yet.

Throwing in her lot with the Technical Group would be the next best thing, giving the Reform Alliance TDs a much higher profile while also keeping their long-term options open.

As usual with Lucinda (below), nothing about this is straightforward. Catherine Murphy, the Technical Group's whip, has expressed hostility to the idea. Denis Naughten, an important member of the Reform Alliance, says he has no interest in making a move.

On the positive side, former Labour TDs Roisin Shortall and Tommy Broughan are rumoured to be potential recruits.

Assuming that these teething problems can be sorted out, then the potential is huge. The Technical Group's membership might swell from the current 21 up to 23, more than either Fianna Fail or Sinn Fein.

If it managed to choose a single figurehead, he or she could claim to be the real leader of the opposition.

jungle

This, of course, is the Technical Group's Achilles heel. Its TDs range from old-school socialists such as Joe Higgins and Maureen O'Sullivan to free marketeers like Shane Ross and Stephen Donnelly.

Like animals in the jungle, these Independents huddle together for warmth - but they are essentially lone wolves with little hope of ever agreeing a common policy platform.

Even so, Lucinda's move makes perfect sense. It will secure the Reform Alliance much more speaking time in the Dail and increase their presence on Oireachtas committees.

Essentially, it buys them what Margaret Thatcher used to call "the oxygen of publicity".

With a general election now 18 months away at most, all of the main party leaders have started to play coalition poker. Independents are the wild card in the pack.

In most opinion polls, they get between 20 and 25pc - which could make it extremely difficult for Enda Kenny or anyone else to form a government without at least some of their support.

Last weekend's RedC survey proved the point perfectly. If its figures translated into reality, then the only possible two-party coalition would be between Fine Gael and Sinn Fein.

That seems about as likely as the prospect of Enda and Gerry Adams replacing Johnny Giles and Eamon Dunphy on Cadbury's bizarre television commercials.

All this explains why Lucinda's application to join the Technical Group will inject an extra frisson into the long election campaign.

She and her fellow Fine Gael rebels may even try to engineer a reverse takeover, ditching some left-wing members but uniting its more economically conservative TDs behind her leadership.

If or when she finally decides to stop teasing and form a proper political party, it could be stronger than any of her opponents imagined.

right-wing

Lucinda recently became a mother for the first time. A few old-fashioned commentators suggested that this might force her to keep a lower profile, but instead she has returned to the Dail looking as ambitious as ever.

She is one of the few Irish politicians recognisable by their first name alone and commands respect even from people who strongly disagree with her more right-wing views.

Although leaving her spiritual home in Fine Gael was emotionally devastating for Lucinda, now she has a chance to take the ultimate revenge - by becoming a major roadblock to Enda Kenny's re-election as Taoiseach.

The great game of Irish politics is finally back on. It appears that Lucinda Creighton is determined to be a player.

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