Lucinda Creighton and the “Rats in the Ranks”

Thanks to a lot of travelling with work it has been a few weeks since I last posted on here. Here are my belated thoughts on Lucinda Creighton’s departure from the ranks of the Fine Gael parliamentary party and how it connects with the “rats in the ranks”


Larry Hand in "Rats in the Ranks"
Larry Hand in “Rats in the Ranks”

If you enjoy political machinations and intrigue then you should definitely watch the excellent 1994 Australian documentary “Rats in the Ranks”   It chronicles the back stabbing and political manoeuvrings among the 12 local councillors electing a new mayor in a suburban Sydney district of Leichhardt. Watch the trailer here:

It has become ritualistic viewing for me, I usually watch it a few times a year. The central character, Cllr Larry Hand, not only offers a quick primer in petty political power-play as he attempts to retain his post as Mayor, he also comes out with a few nice political aphorisms.

My particular favourite is his observation following yet another row with his Australian Labor Party (ALP) counterparts: “I’ve always felt you haven’t really joined the ALP until you’ve been expelled from it.” Hand had originally been an ALP member.

Perhaps the line has a particular resonance with me as around the same time (the mid 90s) I came perilously close to being expelled from Fianna Fáil. The reason was my going on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland in early November 1994 to call on Albert Reynolds to stand aside in the wake of the controversy surrounding the appointment of Harry Whelehan as President of the High Court.

My public comments on that Monday morning provoked a motion to discipline me (for conduct unbecoming a member) for the following Thursday’s Fianna Fáil Árd Comhairle, but it was never discussed as Reynolds resigned on Thursday morning.

Hand’s words came to mind again while watching Lucinda Creighton’s departure from the Fine Gael parliamentary party last week.

Though her fairly intensive milking of the situation in the days since her departure has not impressed me as much, it still does not take away from her steadfastness in sticking by her beliefs and pre-election commitments on X case legislation.

At this point it is worth pointing out that while I am a constituent of hers, I have never voted for her and that I don’t share her reservations and disagree with how she voted last week. Nonetheless, her actions stand in marked contrast to the capitulation of some of her colleagues. Notwithstanding the weeks of watching them publicly wrestling with their consciences, it was almost inevitable that they were going to beat their consciences into submission.

Step forward Deputy Michelle Mulherin. The paucity of her argument was exposed in the final line of her excruciatingly self pitying Dáil speech:  “I am now faced with either supporting the bill or being booted out of the party, my party, and I am not going to allow myself to be booted out so I am supporting this legislation.”

If her intention was to secure sympathy, she failed miserably. The only thing she succeeded in doing was making her constituency colleague John O’Mahony look less spineless than her.

His statement, at least, made some attempt at arguing a case for reneging on Fine Gael’s the pre-election commitments made in Phil Hogan’s infamous letter of comfort.

O’Mahony had to share his particular fig leaf of pretence with Deputy James Bannon. Bannon is  another one of the cadre of Fine Gael Deputies who once swore up and down that they would never ever support something like this and now happily marched into the Yes lobby hoping that the people to whom they given those solemn promises would ignore their volte-face.

While I would happily advise anyone wanting a peaceful and contented existence to resolutely ignore Deputy Bannon, I suspect they will not ignore his duplicity on this one.

Returning to Lucinda, the pundits and observers who were this week predicting her slow disappearance into obscurity on the back benches seriously underestimate the Deputy for Dublin Bay South.

Lucinda Creighton TD (pic taken from her website)
Lucinda Creighton TD (pic taken from her website)

While political history does show that many TDs who have defied the whip manage do disappear, never to be heard from again: Alice Glenn springs to mind, there are several notable exceptions.

Charlie McCreevy’s expulsion from Fianna Fáil under Haughey was the making of his career, not the breaking of it. Similarly Mary Harney’s 1985 expulsion from the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party for voting for the Anglo Irish Agreement did not end her career.  This applies too to Des O’Malley, though I will concede that their routes back came via a new party.

While her stance on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill would not reflect the views of most in her constituency, I suspect they will still admire her conviction and preparedness to walk the walk when necessary.

The same can be said for Wicklow TD, Billy Timmins. Billy was the Fine Gael opposition spokesperson for most of my time in the Department of Defence. He was an extremely effective opposition spokesman who showed more loyalty to Enda Kenny (via his attempted defence of Enda’s hare brained call for Army boot camps to deal with young offenders)  than Enda showed to him.

While the conduct of this week’s debate bordered on the farcical with serious doubts now raised over the Government’s ability to order the business of the Dáil, by contrast the Taoiseach emerged somewhat stronger in the short term thanks to his put down of most of the wavering or doubtful TDs.

But, as for the implications for Enda in the medium to longer term, these may not turn out to be quite as rose tinted as they now appear. While the likes of Mulherin and Bannon now have little or no credibility, those others who were forced through the lobbies without all the public hullabaloo will quietly seethe away, just waiting for the moment when Enda needs them.