UNDERWHELMING is probably the best word that was used to describe the launch on Friday 13th last of the awkwardly-named Renua Ireland party by former Fine Gael minister of state Lucinda Creighton. Even the announcement of its name was greeted with a puzzled silence when its leader revealed this anglicised version of ré nua, which means new era.
There was very little in what they revealed about themselves and their policies to suggest that they are going to provide the Irish political scene with anything like the radical shake-up it needs. The current government has failed badly so far in terms of delivering on promised political reforms and, as a result, the public has become even more disenchanted with politicians in general.
With Renua Ireland being formed by disaffected Fine Gaelers and a motley collection of people with centre-right leanings, they seem to be too similar to their political roots to be considered a true alternative by the electorate. They were so painfully slow thinking up a name for the party and getting an outline of their policy platform together that they went into their launch with little or no momentum.
To capture the public imagination – which Renua has singularly failed to do so far – a new party needs to excite with imaginative policies and colourful personalities. Those involved in the launch seemed to be very much of the sober conservative variety.
They have a few worthy ideas, especially their desire for more openness and transparency surrounding the workings of government, such as the publication of the minutes of cabinet meetings within 48 hours and of legal advice received from the Attorney General as they, rightly, feel there is too much of a culture of secrecy in the corridors of power. However, all parties say they want openness and transparency, but do precious little to implement them when they have the opportunity to do so and one has to wonder if Renua can ever get itself into a strong enough position to influence such change.
Among the other policies they announced were family-friendly initiatives such as tax relief on childcare costs, which would certainly be welcome and would make it more attractive for people to avail of work opportunities. Renua also wants the top rate of Universal Social Charge for the self-employed to be abolished, but were unable to quantify what this would cost the exchequer.
The party is very much pro-private enterprise and one of its founders, economist Eddie Hobbs’ blunt statement that they were not in favour of any pay increases in the short term for public service workers will not have won them any fans in that sector. He argues that their pre-economic downturn pay rates were unsustainable, but is not averse to considering increases that would be linked to efficiencies.
The aforementioned Mr Hobbs ruled out standing as a candidate himself in the immediate future, but not entirely in the medium term. One would wonder, given his West Cork family roots, if he would be tempted to stand in Cork South West?
The best hope Renua Ireland might have of being truly influential is if they – with the handful of seats, at best, that they are likely to win in the next general election – held the balance of power in the formation of a government. Ironically, it could well be propping up a Fine Gael-led government, as the left-wing parties would want nothing to do with them.
With the government parties, Fine Gael and Labour, regaining lost round in the latest political opinion polls, Renua has a lot of work to do in carving a distinct identity of its own, as its launch just did not excite. A lot of unfavourable comparisons have been made between its launch last weekend and that of the Progressive Democrats almost 30 years ago, but the circumstances that brought about the formation of the respective parties are quite different.
The PDs were formed by a strong collection of already-established political heavy-hitters, many with front bench cabinet experience, who were passionate in their dislike of how the country and the Fianna Fáil party were being run by Charlie Haughey. Their launch at a time when corruption was rife exuded this passion and had a sense of the urgency that was necessary to try to put things right.
The raison d’etre of Renua Ireland, while justifiable, does not strike a compelling chord and the party will have to be much more convincing when trying to justify its existence.