Setting up RENUA Ireland in March last year was clearly the most difficult route which my colleagues and I could possibly have taken. I know that many friends and commentators believed we should run as Independents.
Many of my former party colleagues implored us to return to the Fine Gael fold, but to myself and the thousands of RENUA members, supporters, canvassers and candidates, these were not options that we could seriously consider. They were the easy options.
You see, we passionately believed, and continue to believe, that Ireland is not well served by its political establishment. As a country we need change. But change will not be delivered by the mainstream political parties. We decided to create a new political party to set out a new vision to try to be a catalyst to deliver that change. We have not succeeded in this election, but this is just the beginning of the RENUA project.
RENUA Ireland was bold and ambitious in the Manifesto we launched in early January. There are many big ideas in there, but in a world of “soundbites” and spin, it is very very difficult to communicate substantive policy ideas. As a small party with no resources, it is almost impossible.
Funding was the biggest challenge for us in this election campaign. The established parties receive €14 million a year from the exchequer. This is mega money to plough into policy development, media advertising, social media campaigning, administrative support and much more.
By contrast, a new party receives nothing. The imbalance in this situation is stark. Any commercial industry operating in this manner would probably fall foul of competition law, especially where the incumbents set the rules to benefit themselves.
Even the other new party on the political scene, the Social Democrats, could utilise the generous allowances received by their TDs who were elected in 2011 as Independents, such as Stephen Donnelly and Catherine Murphy. All public funds distributed in respect of myself and my Oireachtas colleagues in RENUA Ireland were retained by our former party, Fine Gael. We asked Fine Gael to return that taxpayer money to the taxpayer, but they insisted on keeping it.
A real silver lining for the party, in what was obviously a disappointing election campaign, is the fact that having exceeded the critical 2% threshold, RENUA Ireland will now be entitled to receive state funding to run and administer the party. These funds will be modest enough, but they give the party the capacity to grow and build on the achievements of our 26 candidates nationwide. I believe the party will now focus firmly on the next local elections to continue building a national organisation from the grass roots upwards.
I have no doubt that RENUA has a future, and a necessary one at that. The likely outcome of this election is a FG minority government, propped up by Fianna Fáil in opposition – a Tallaght Strategy of sorts. Many people will rejoice at this outcome, they will regard it as the proper realignment of Irish politics into a Left/Right divide.
I, however, am more pessimistic. I do think both parties have a responsibility to form a government and respect the outcome of the election. But I am absolutely convinced that a FG/FF coalition or minority government situation will do nothing to solve the problems of this Republic.
A joining of forces by both parties will ensure the continuation of the failed practices which led us to economic devastation in 2008. Such an alliance will see cronyism continue unabated, will see powerful vested interests continue to be represented at the Cabinet table, and will copper-fasten the culture of impunity, which refuses to hold corrupt politicians and reckless bankers to account.
During our existence to date, we have railed against this type of old politics, but maybe we were unable to convey this message sufficiently strongly during the recent campaign. Or perhaps we conveyed it so strongly that the various vested interests threatened by our party’s ethics and plain talking decided to keep us down. Certainly the malicious and calculated smear campaign orchestrated against me personally, and by extension the party, by the largest media outlet in the land, tells its own story.
That being said, I believe strongly in democracy and the democratic process, and I completely respect the democratic will of the voters of Dublin Bay South and the other 39 constituencies across Ireland.
To have served and represented my community, my constituency and my country has been a huge honour, and one for which I feel grateful and privileged.
I wish all of the TDs elected to the 32nd Dail the very best of luck over the months and years ahead – we are living in interesting times, and they will need it.