PARTY GIRL

HOW LUCINDA CREIGHTON FOUND PER­SONAL AND PO­LIT­I­CAL CON­TENT­MENT

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - FRONT PAGE -

Lucinda Creighton is a woman on the brink of big things. One, the prospec­tive birth of her baby in March, scares the liv­ing day­lights out of her, she ad­mits. The other, she seems more san­guine about. We meet ahead of what's been called the Re­form Al­liance's ‘mon­ster meet­ing’ in Dublin's RDS, which will have taken place by the time this in­ter­view is pub­lished.

The day we meet, she tells me that 300 of the 500 avail­able places at it have been signed up for, and she recog­nises only a hand­ful of the names on the list. “I hope it's not hi­jacked,” she half-jokes.

It has been quite a year for Lucinda Creighton, who cel­e­brated her 34th birth­day last week, but not a bad one.

When asked if the storm around her re­jec­tion of the Pro­tec­tion of Life Dur­ing Preg­nancy Bill, and her sub­se­quent ejec­tion from Fine Gael, left her rat­tled, Lucinda gives an em­phatic “No.” She is ei­ther tougher than that, or smart enough to know that she should seem tougher than that.

“In a funny way,” she says, “I feel per­son­ally and po­lit­i­cally con­tent in a way that I couldn't have an­tic­i­pated last July [when she was ex­pelled from Fine Gael]. It wasn't a high­light of the year, by any means, but I have no re­grets.

“There were cer­tain frus­tra­tions that I felt in the party since I was elected in 2007, which man­i­fested in var­i­ous ways,” she says with a dr y laugh at this slight un­der­state­ment. “I had prob­lems with the lack of any real de­bate, the lack of con­sul­ta­tion on pol­icy, the top-down ap­proach.

“It's not just some­thing that I think is right or ac­cept­able in pol­i­tics. And I feel, now, that I've es­caped that frus­tra­tion. So there's a cer­tain sense of re­lease and relief.”

Lucinda Creighton has never been one to pull her punches, and was given to speak­ing her mind and plainly set­ting out her po­si­tion long be­fore she set out her in­ten­tion to vote against the whip last year.

Soon af­ter she was elected in 2007 — be­com­ing, then, the youngest mem­ber of the Dail, and the only one born in the Eight­ies — she crit­i­cised the “cute hoor pol­i­tics” of her party and took no pris­on­ers in the EU, ei­ther.

She is straight talk­ing, ar­tic­u­late and clear think­ing in con­ver­sa­tion, as only a trained bar­ris­ter can be, but she has an in­ter­est­ing way of set­ting out her stall calmly and coolly, and then, al­most ca­su­ally, drop­ping dev­as­tat­ing lit­tle bombs. And she has lit­tle good to say about the party she has left be­hind and, she says, to which she can't see her­self re­turn­ing. Or “not be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tion” any­way.

Though she has said that the Re­form Al­liance meet­ing in the RDS was not about re­cruit­ment or an­nounc­ing a new party, Lucinda is un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally vague.

She reck­ons there will be at least one new party be­fore the next gen­eral elec­tion, but maybe not.

“There's a lot of chat­ter,” she says, “but there was a lot of chat­ter the last time, too: the David McWil­liams aborted ef­fort, and so on, that didn't hap­pen be­cause peo­ple got cold feet. That could hap­pen again, but there is cer­tainly a mood for some­thing new, and whether that's a po­lit­i­cal party, or some­thing along the lines of what we're do­ing, I don't know.” So what are the Re­form Al­liance do­ing? “It's an al­liance,” Lucinda an­swers. “That's all it is. We have no re­sources, no struc­tures you'd as­so­ci­ate with a po­lit­i­cal party. We de­cided to work to­gether to high­light is­sues in the Dail, to spon­sor pri­vate mem­bers' bills, to put down amend­ments, and I think we've done it rel­a­tively well.

“And we also want to reach out to the huge swathe of the pop­u­la­tion who are ut­terly dis­con­nected from pol­i­tics, and that's what the meet­ing is about.

“It's the op­po­site of an ard fheis, re­ally,” she says of the RDS, “be­cause the po­lit­i­cal ad­vi­sors, the man­darins, what­ever you want to call them, they write and stage-man­age ard fheiseanna to within an inch of their lives. I've been on three or four steer­ing com­mit­tees for Fine Gael Ard Fheiseanna, and it's the most frus­trat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause you've got great plans and in­ten­tions to in­volve mem­bers, but, when it comes down to it, there's a TV sched­ule, and an im­age to por­tray, and a cer­tain quota of peo­ple to fill: races, fe­males, tick the boxes.”

In hold­ing a new-style, new-ideas meet­ing, there could seem to be a de­sire, on the part of the eight-strong Re­form Al­liance, to be seen as more than just an anti-abor­tion move­ment.

Though, while Lucinda ac­cepts that abor­tion has al­ways been the is­sue about which she’s most fre­quently quizzed on con­stituents' doorsteps, she also says that she'd be “amazed” if she's as­so­ci­ated solely with that is­sue. “I was Min­is­ter for Euro­pean Af­fairs for two years,” she says. “I'd be amazed if I'm not more as­so­ci­ated with that.” This may or may not be cor­rect, but there's no deny­ing, surely, that more peo­ple know Lucinda Creighton — or, as she might posit, they think they know her and her opin­ions — since the events of last sum­mer. So, per­haps, open­ing her­self and the Al­liance up to the pub­lic gives her the op­por­tu­nity to set things straight and present her­self afresh.

“But I ac­cept,” she adds, “that we are all peo­ple who were kicked out of Fine Gael on the ba­sis of not vot­ing for the abor­tion leg­is­la­tion — well, apart from De­nis [Naughten]. He was ex­pelled on foot of the Roscom­mon Hos­pi­tal is­sue — but is that the only thing that unites us? Of course not.

“What unites us is that we were all peo­ple who were pre­pared to step out­side of our com­fort zone, which most peo­ple in pol­i­tics were not pre­pared to do. We were pre­pared to say, ‘This is some­thing that we were ex­plicit about be­fore the last elec­tion.' The party was, we, as in­di­vid­u­als were, and, most par­tic­u­larly, our party leader was.

“Yes, gov­ern­ment is about a de­gree of com­pro­mise, and the pro­gramme for gov­ern­ment is about a de­gree of com­pro­mise, but, on an is­sue of that sort, on which peo­ple do dis­agree, on an is­sue that is a mat­ter of life and death, it's an en­tirely dif­fer­ent con­cept.

“If you change the abor­tion law, there will be abor­tions, and they can never be un­done. It's not like a change to the tax code, that can be changed back the next year. And some peo­ple say that's a right-wing view — I mean, I've heard it all, es­pe­cially on so­cial me­dia and what­ever — but there's a huge co­hort of peo­ple in our par­lia­men­tary party who said they'd never vote for it and went in and did vote for it.”

There are sev­eral oc­ca­sions in the course of our con­ver­sa­tion that Lucinda Creighton be­comes vis­i­bly an­gry. When dis­cussing the Gov­ern­ment's han­dling of the Pro­tec­tion of Life Dur­ing Preg­nancy Bill, be­fore, and since, it was passed; when dis­cussing how her po­si­tion re­gard­ing the Bill, and re­gard­ing abor­tion, has been ma­nip­u­lated and mis­rep­re­sented; when dis­cussing how she be­lieves the death of Savita Halap­panavar was hi­jacked, and when dis­cussing for­mer col­leagues that she be­lieves to have been hyp­ocrites last sum­mer.

She says that she broke bread with many for­mer party col­leagues, who told her they be­lieved that there should be no leg­is­la­tion on the X case — and then went and voted with the Gov­ern­ment. Did they act for the party's sake, per­haps?

“Yeah,” says Lucinda. “Or be­cause it was the right thing for them and their po­lit­i­cal ca­reers. And there's some­thing re­ally dis­heart­en­ing about that as a politi­cian. Be­cause, if you don't have some ba­sic prin­ci­pals that you're pre­pared to take a hit for, then what's the point?

“I've a lot more re­gard for the peo­ple in Fine Gael who don't share my view on abor­tion,” she adds, “but who've never pre­tended oth­er­wise.”

What the man­ner in which the Bill was pre­sented and passed meant, Lucinda be­lieves, is that an op­por­tu­nity for a proper de­bate on the sub­ject of abor­tion was missed. There was no chance to ex­plore what, for a lot of peo­ple, is a nu­anced is­sue, a grey area some­where in be­tween the po­lar op­po­site po­si­tions into which the de­bate tends to de­gen­er­ate.

Lucinda's own ad­mis­sion that her po­si­tion had al­tered since her youth was in­ter­est­ing, and prob­a­bly spoke for the ex­pe­ri­ence of many peo­ple, but it was swept away in the heat of the cam­paign. And the proof of how the lack of de­bate was a real shame is to be seen in how the Act is now be­ing put into ef­fect, she sug­gests.

“The leg­is­la­tion would have passed any­way,” Lucinda points out. “There was enough of a ma­jor­ity be­tween Labour and cer­tain parts of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, Sinn Fein, United Left Al­liance, Tech­ni­cal Group, et cetera. It would have been car­ried. There would have been a higher rate of at­tri­tion, if you like, if peo­ple had been al­lowed to ex­er­cise their own view on it, but that would have been fairer, I think.

“Fine Gael would still have been breach­ing their own com­mit­ments be­fore the last elec­tion,” she adds, “and the Taoiseach would still have been breach­ing per­sonal com­mit­ments I saw him make at a meet­ing in my con­stituency, but at least it would not have been so di­vi­sive.

“I don't know that I would have been com­fort­able stay­ing, but that room for ma­noeu­vre would have been healthy and a real sign of lead­er­ship.”

Lucinda is crit­i­cal, too, of the han­dling of the Act since it came into ef­fect in the new year. She has con­cerns about how psy­chi­a­trists can be ex­pected to defini­tively

de­cide whether a woman is sui­ci­dal, with the fear that, if they say she is not, then what hap­pens if that woman then kills her­self ? And it's not only that she is both­ered by the avail­abil­ity of abor­tion, or the is­sues around sui­ci­dal ideation, but about what she sees as a fun­da­men­tal, cul­tural re­fusal within the Gov­ern­ment to de­bate it. Par­tic­u­larly with Lucinda, you might say, which, you might say, again, is sim­ply petty per­son­al­ity pol­i­tics. You might.

Lucinda ex­plains how her Al­liance col­league, Terence Flana­gan, asked ques­tions in the Dail late last year about guide­lines for psy­chi­a­trists, but with no joy.

“They were to­tally dis­missed by the all-know­ing Min­is­ter for Health,” she says, drop­ping one of her lit­tle bombs, “or, pre­sum­ably, by the peo­ple who write his an­swers to par­lia­men­tary ques­tions.”

Is Lucinda Creighton op­posed to abor­tion un­der any cir­cum­stances?

“There are ter­mi­na­tions hap­pen­ing in hos­pi­tals all the time,” she an­swers, “and I think a very fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple is that no treat­ment should be de­nied to any woman where her life is at risk. And that is ef­fec­tively the test that ex­ists in our law any­way, and I sup­port that.

“It makes no sense, in fact. It would be bar­baric if our med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als were fo­cused on pro­tect­ing the life of a baby at the cost of the life of the mother. But the Savita Halap­panavar case is dif­fer­ent and dif­fi­cult.

“But you can't make pro­nounce­ments. The peo­ple who make pro­nounce­ments that, if Savita had an abor­tion, her life would have been saved, need to think again. One thing is clear, that she had con­tracted sep­sis and she wasn't treated ap­pro­pri­ately for it. If she had been, and whether that would have re­quired a ter­mi­na­tion, I don't know, but that's a clin­i­cal judge­ment that doc­tors make in this coun­try all the time.”

“Yes, I have no doubt that it was,” says Lucinda on whether she be­lieves the Savita case was hi­jacked, “and I think that is re­ally tragic. I have peo­ple email­ing me, say­ing, ‘You'd rather see Savita die than change the law'; that sort of non­sense, and it's com­pletely ill-in­formed and not true. Peo­ple were ma­nip­u­lated.”

She adds, with some ire, that the easy ac­cu­sa­tion thrown at her was “Catholic fun­da­men­tal­ist”, ex­plain­ing that she's not re­li­gious, not a reg­u­lar mass-goer, not in­volved in re­li­gion in any way.

But the hate that was ev­i­dent in this throw­ing around of ‘Catholic’ as a pe­jo­ra­tive scared her, and seemed to her to be bor­der­ing on re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion. She laughs drily at the idea that throw­ing ‘Catholic’ into any de­bate is not un­like the de­bate-halt­ing charge of ‘Nazi’ or ‘Hitler’.

While a cer­tain per­sonal dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Fine Gael — and Enda Kenny, in par­tic­u­lar — wasn't some­thing Lucinda had ever been quiet about, her de­par­ture, her ex­pul­sion from the party wasn't some­thing she would have fore­seen two years ago.

She has said, many times, that she's dyed-in-the-wool Fine Gael, but, given how she blithely picks apart its work­ings dur­ing this con­ver­sa­tion, you can't see how she'd plan to re-en­ter its em­brace.

“In Fine Gael,” she says, “and I sus­pect it's the same in other par­ties, you go to weekly meet­ings, you have ab­so­lutely zero im­pact ‘I’ve more re­gard for peo­ple who don’t share my view on abor­tion, but who have never pre­tended oth­er­wise’ on pol­icy, your views are not wel­come un­less they back up what's been handed down by ad­vi­sors and spokes­peo­ple.” She crit­i­cises the man­ner in which min­is­ters have “very lit­tle lee­way in a gov­ern­ment that's heav­ily dom­i­nated by civil ser­vants”, but ad­mits that, in some ways, it has al­ways been so. And quickly adds that there are a lot of “fan­tas­tic” civil ser­vants — many of whom she worked with in For­eign Af­fairs.

“But what I hear from col­leagues,” she adds, “is that it's cer­tainly got worse in the last 10 or 15 years.”

It's not nec­es­sar­ily a ques­tion of Fine Gael need­ing a younger lead­er­ship, ei­ther, says Lucinda, who wasn't even born when Enda Kenny was first elected in 1975. “It's not so much gen­er­a­tional as a mind­set thing. There is a struc­ture that has been in place for some time, and peo­ple see it as suc­cess­ful — if you con­sider suc­cess to be win­ning an elec­tion that was un­loseable,” she says, drop­ping another lit­tle bomb. “But is it demo­cratic, is it a de­sir­able po­lit­i­cal struc­ture? No, it's not. But a lot of peo­ple are happy to play to the game. They're happy to go along with what­ever in or­der to ad­vance their ca­reers, and it re­mains to be seen if oth­ers are pre­pared to put their heads above the para­pet to change that.” Would Lucinda like to be taoiseach? “Ha, ha,” she an­swers. “That's not look­ing

very likely, is it? When I was young and ide­al­is­tic, I would have said, ‘Yeah, I'd love to be taoiseach, there should be a woman taoiseach, blah blah, blah.’ But, now, I don't know about taoiseach be­ing the best job in gov­ern­ment.”

The dream job, Lucinda says, would be Min­is­ter for Fi­nance. And she speaks both warmly and ad­mir­ingly of Michael Noo­nan, though less pos­i­tively about the depart­ment it­self. “I don't think it has changed much since the cri­sis,” she says.

“The same men­tal­ity ex­ists that got us into this sit­u­a­tion. I'm talk­ing about the per­ma­nent gov­ern­ment, rather than the min­is­ter.”

Apart from that, Lucinda, whose mother was a school teacher in her na­tive Mayo, would be keenly in­ter­ested in ed­u­ca­tion — “de­spite what the so­cial­ists say, they're not the only ones who care about fair­ness and op­por­tu­nity in pol­i­tics.” She's also ex­er­cised by so­cial wel­fare — “be­cause there has been no so­cial wel­fare re­form, re­ally.”

As a woman about to have her first child, how­ever, Lucinda is on the brink of an ex­pe­ri­ence more life-chang­ing than any­thing she has ex­pe­ri­enced in her ca­reer to date.

And while she out­lines how she and her hus­band, Se­na­tor Paul Brad­ford, are lucky to work in jobs that aren't strictly nine to five, and should al­low them flex­i­bil­ity to jug­gle the re­spon­si­bil­ity, she also ac­knowl­edges that it's dif­fer­ent for women.

Not least in the fact that, as a TD, she is not en­ti­tled to any em­ployer top-up of the state ben­e­fit — not that she's com­plain­ing.

“I ex­plain to peo­ple that I'm just like any self-em­ployed per­son,” she says, be­fore adding, “I've never had a baby, so I have no idea, phys­i­cally, what the ef­fect will be, but I sup­pose there will be a week or two where I won't be go­ing any­where. But, in pol­i­tics, you never switch off and you don't stop.

“It won't be easy, but I have an of­fice in the house, so I'll use it more and try to man­age it that way,” she says, be­fore ad­mit­ting that it's no ac­ci­dent that there aren't more TDs who are moth­ers to young chil­dren.

The po­lit­i­cal days are long, meet­ings are of­ten at night, there can be a lot of trav­el­ling and a lot of time away from home.

Even Mar­garet Thatcher worked as a bar­ris­ter un­til her twin chil­dren were six years of age and pub­licly re­jected the idea of a min­istry un­til they were older again. She cites the de­ci­sion of her friend and mother of three Olywn En­right not to run in the last gen­eral elec­tion as dis­ap­point­ing, but also un­der­stand­able. It’s a world that should be made more ac­ces­si­ble for women and moth­ers, but even Lucinda’s not sure how that can hap­pen. Is she op­ti­mistic for Ire­land in gen­eral? “I am, in the short and medium term,” she says. “I think Michael Noo­nan has done a good job, but there are things I would worry about, like mov­ing back into this prop­erty-bub­ble cy­cle. I think we're in dan­ger of mak­ing some of the same mis­takes again. There's an op­ti­mism around, but, in terms of a sus­tain­able-growth plan, there isn't one. And that both­ers me.”

And, if it is both­er­ing Lucinda Creighton, you can be sure, then, that she'll be let­ting some­one know about it. She has big plans and is a woman on the brink of bring­ing some of them into be­ing.

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