It now seems a forgone conclusion that Lucinda Creighton will vote against the Fine Gael party whip in the vote on the abortion bill later today or tomorrow. Many of the commentaries on this suggest that this will jeopardize her political career: she will lose her junior ministerial position as Minister for Europe; she will lose her membership of the parliamentary party; and Enda Kenny has made clear that she, like the other rebels, will not be allowed to run as a candidate for Fine Gael in the next election. But is this last threat really true?
There’s no doubt that the stick being shaken by Enda Kenny is more draconian than that wielded by any of his predecessors including Charlie Haughey. (For excellent analysis, see Noel Whelan’s column in last Saturday’s Irish Times.) And yet again it demonstrates just how extreme Irish parliamentary politics can be in the use of the whip certainly when compared with other countries (for more, see here).
But we are potentially more than two years away from the next election, an election which – by the way – will see all the parties struggling to fill their quotas of women candidates in order to meet the new gender quota regulations (requiring at least 30% of candidates from each gender). Is it really credible that someone with the abilities of Lucinda Creighton will be denied the right to run again?
Furthermore, is the party leader’s threat entirely consistent with the party’s Constitution and Rules? The relevant points appear to be the following. Under the rules, the party’s disciplinary committee determines whether a TD should lose the party whip and for what period of time. But nowhere (at least nowhere that I can see) does the party’s Constitution refer to a TD in this scenario being formally denied the right to fight as a candidate in a future election. As a member of the party Lucinda Creighton could always seek nomination from her constituency convention. If the members of the convention were then to decide to nominate her, it would require the party’s executive council ‘on the proposal of the party leader’ to decide on whether to accept or overrule the convention’s recommendation.
Clearly at that point, the party leader (two years or so from now) could trigger his proposed veto. What that would seem to mean in practice is that if and when Lucinda Creighton defies the whip in the next day or so, Enda Kenny can at most threaten to do this in a few years time, but as far as I can see he can’t actually do this at this point in time. (I stand ready to be corrected on this!)
So, the threat would appear to be that he would veto any attempt by her to become a candidate in the next election. But at that moment in time years from now in the heat of the election build up, with memories having faded, with the inevitable clamour around someone of her calibre, with the focus on achieving better gender balance…. would he?