Over an omelette in the Dáil Restaurant, LUCINDA CREIGHTON bares her political conscience
All politics is drama. So why was I surprised that my lunch with Lucinda Creighton immediately offered what might have been an intriguing opening to a political television drama. The only person we encountered on the walk from the main hall to the Dáil Restaurant was Leo Varadkar. Lucinda and Leo, precocious political twins, sharing the same political dream from student days, find themselves on polar opposite paths. His success is a reminder of all she forfeited when conscience cost her a Cabinet portfolio, its perks and pensions. And her struggle is a reminder of what he gained and how there was one law for men who challenged the leadership and another law for a woman. The old friends greeted each other warmly.
The Dáil Restaurant offered more polarities. On one side of the bright and largely empty room sat Mairia Cahill, who pinned rape on Sinn Féin and on the other, Gerry Adams surrounded by large men. There is no phony entente. I wonder how their digestions handle it. Perhaps the food, good, honest fare, helps. I am having cod with a Parmesan crust – as nice as I have ever tasted. Creighton has an omelette with ham. She’s weight watching: “I put on seven pounds over Christmas,” she says. Seven pounds over two weeks strikes me as not bad – I could do it in two days. “So could I, but it’s pretty much paleo for me for now,” she says. In a nation of dieters, it’s one way of having your finger on the pulse.
We hardly meet these days. Running the Health Service and running a new party are time consuming
The encounter with Varadkar prompts me to mention a myth beloved of the press corps: that Lucinda and Leo were once an item. Not as ludicrous as it sounds: when Leo came out on Miriam Meets exactly a year ago, he referred to the women he had dated. She looks astounded. “We were pals,” she says. “We hardly meet these days. Running the Health Service and running a new party are time consuming.” She laughs and I am reminded that her laugh, raucous and throaty, is a rarity these days. Given her tough stances these past two and a half years, it would be easy to think she is all character and no personality. But it is the balance of both which creates the charisma to lead a party.
Creighton turned 36 last week. I tell her my theory that 36 is a dangerous age for a woman. That moment beyond the apex of the thirties is when women face their biology or simply become clear-eyed about the choices they are making. Unsatisfactory marriages are abandoned, careers suspended to have a baby, rebellions are myriad. “Is there something I should warn Paul about?” She laughs.
Her husband Senator Paul Bradford, Renua candidate for Cork East, can rest easy. “To be a woman in politics is difficult, but it’s still doable. We are a good team. Paul doesn’t complain. I’m in charge when he’s in Cork, canvassing three or four days a week. I collect Gwendolyn from the crèche and give her dinner every day. And when he’s back, he’s in charge.”
I love my job and I love my daughter. But there’s a huge egocentricity around politics and politicians, I look at certain politicians and they have abandoned their personal lives, sacrificed their families
Her commitment to her personal life is palpable. And unequivocal. “I love my job and I love my daughter. But there’s a huge egocentricity around politics and politicians, I look at certain politicians and they have abandoned their personal lives, sacrificed their families.” But could this same commitment be the reason for what some see as the squandering of a great moment in Irish politics? That moment came in the autumn of 2013, as a group of like-minded people, having worked together to defeat the abolition of the Senate, looked to her to start a new party. Renua was not formed until January 2015, by which time much of that momentum was gone. Could impending motherhood have been a factor? “No. I made it clear I was going to start a new party. I spent a lot of time hanging around waiting for people to approach me. And they didn’t.”
One thing the hiatus demonstrated is that people regarded her as the only natural leader and waited for her to act. That and her unseasonal conservatism cause one to forget how young she is. She acknowledges a mentor in former PD leader Mary Harney. “Women politicians can be nasty and competitive,” she says, a harsh judgement which, typically, didn’t blind her to the need for gender quotas. “Mary Harney is the opposite – encouraging, kind, generous. I rate her very highly.” Both women defined themselves by implacable opposition to their party leaders; Harney to Haughey, Creighton to Kenny. They are women who don’t forget or forgive. Along with a coterie of other Dáil women, Creighton keeps a tight focus on another man – media mogul Denis O’Brien – regardless of the cost in coverage.
I know how parties sleepwalk into Government, having been a minister. The watchdog fails when it abdicates responsibility
Despite the disastrous history of “watchdog” parties, including the PDs, in Government, that is precisely where she has positioned Renua for this election. There is method in it. Election 2016 is a numbers game: election demographers say the Coalition will be about six seats short. But will she get six? Is there room for another centre right party? The PDs were of their time; Ireland was State-trammelled in many spheres. “The PDs revolutionised personal taxes in Ireland. But they sold their soul when they took their eye off fiscal prudence and got into benchmarking.” Would Renua be different? “I know how parties sleepwalk into Government, having been a minister. The watchdog fails when it abdicates responsibility.”
The political soul of a country is its health service and she is cogent on the need for a revolution in Primary Care and Hospital Groups. But if the reforming zeal of Mary Harney failed to redeem it, what hope a small party? She has her red line issues but Renua’s unique selling point is Creighton’s conscience. If, as predicted, this election ends in coalition chaos it might prove pivotal. We could do worse than a woman with a conscience.
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our March issue, out Saturday March 5.
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