Lucinda Creighton and the Reform Alliance will speak up for the coping classesImage

Former Minister Lucinda Creighton has strongly criticised the way in which the pain of our economic recovery is being visited on the struggling middle classes and on ordinary working families while other sectors are left relatively immune. The brunt is being unfairly borne by the coping classes, retailers and small businesses, she says, and with her new political movement, the Reform Alliance, she plans to speak up for them.

Although the Alliance members remain within the Fine Gael party, and have no plans to set up as a separate independent political party, Creighton does believes there is room for a new party, with almost 40% of people polled repeatedly expressing disenchantment with the existing political system. Creighton believes that there is a gap in the market for a party of 14-15%, which would explicitly represent the ‘squeezed middle.’

If party leader Enda Kenny goes too far with the punishment of these FG rebels and refuses to allow them re-join the party in the near future, they could create a new political movement that could do considerable damage to FG across the country, much as the UKIP has done with the UK Conservative party. Soothing noises have been made in the last week about the eventual re-admittance of the rebels by FG parliamentary party chairman Charles Flanagan and by Minister Richard Bruton but it is understood that the party leader is intent on their suffering a longer exile.

The prospect of the Reform Alliance taking a robust stand on economic issues will be good news for a wide constituency who feel utterly voiceless while the banks get bailed out, the public sector gets protected and the welfare system remains so unreformed.

‘Look around the country’ says Creighton ‘People are working around the clock, trying to keep their heads above water, and provide for themselves and their families. They are working more hours for less and in the case of the self-employed they make great sacrifices and yet are not being supported by the Government. They are in a thankless position and they need someone to speak for them’

Despite endless pleadings to the Minister Joan Burton to reduce the level of spending and the range of benefits in a way that might relieve taxpayers who have to pay for it, Burton continues to resist cutting her budget by the 440 m ordered by the Troika. Creighton says that we ‘have probably the most generous welfare system in Europe,’ which is discouraging people from seeking work, and creating employment

‘Of course, the welfare system is very necessary and we are all in favour of helping the needy and the vulnerable, but all reports have pointed to the distortion of our system’ she says, adding that is it crazy and unfair that people can be better off on welfare than working, or that they can be restricted from working further hours, because they would lose some benefits’

As for Minister Burton’s defence of the welfare system as an ‘economic stimulus’, Creighton said that this totally misunderstands what a stimulus is. ‘You create growth by creating jobs and building companies. Welfare is sustained from taxes and we are heaping people with ever greater taxes. We have to do more to support those who are creating jobs, like SMEs and not indulge those who are content to keep people on the dole’

As for public sector salaries, Creighton believes that all increments should be frozen, across the board. ‘Anything else is acting as if the crisis hasn’t happened.’ To backslide on fixing our finances would be a major mistake and we should hold to the 3.1bn figure. She points to Latvia which entered a much harsher IMF programme a year before Ireland did but which has now come out of it, because they took all the harsh IMF medicine up-front. Latvia now has a robust economy and will join the Euro next year.

Another big issue for the Reform Alliance is political reform, about which Creighton feels passionately. ‘The whole system needs to be changed, she says from the electoral system to the way the parliament interacts with Government, and most crucially how Government interacts with the senior civil service. ‘I have spent two and half years in two different governments and I can see what does or doesn’t work’ she says, lamenting the unreconstructed career pyramid of the average government department.

It is early days yet, but the Reform Alliance has focussed on major areas of policy that will surely resonate with a frustrated public and that have been neglected by a complacent Fine Gael – possibly to that party’s peril.