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'I’m not unrealistic about the challenge I face': Meet the man trying to rebuild Renua

“Renua did not do any harm to anyone in this country … We just tried to start a new party.”

2/1/2015. Lucinda Creightons New Political Parties John Leahy at the party's launch in January 2015 Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

SEPTEMBER. THE KIDS are back in school. The leaves are starting to fall. TDs are getting into the swing of things once more.

It’s a time of change and, some hope, a fresh start.

John Leahy will be ratified as the new leader of Renua Ireland at the party’s AGM in Dublin today.

It’s been a tough few months for Renua. Former junior minister Lucinda Creighton stepped down as leader of the party she formed after cutting ties with Fine Gael over her opposition to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill in 2013.

Renua contested a general election just over a year after Creighton and others gathered to ‘reboot Ireland’. They had three TDs going into the election – Creighton and two other ex-Fine Gael members Billy Timmins and Terence Flanagan – but came out with none.

The deadline for applications for the job to lead Renua closed last week. From the outset, Leahy was tipped as Creighton’s successor and it’s believed he was the only candidate for the €65,000 role.

The Offaly councillor was beside Creighton and financial advisor Eddie Hobbs, who has also stepped aside, when the party was launched in January 2015.

Leahy, who currently serves as coaching and games promotion officer with Offaly GAA, came fifth in the three-seat Offaly constituency in the general election in February.

“I’m not unrealistic in terms of what needs to be done and the challenge that faces Renua,” he tells TheJournal.ie ahead of today’s AGM.

A different approach 

Leahy says Creighton was “a very good leader”, but his approach will be different.

He says Creighton had to focus heavily on creating the party, devising policies and canvassing for the general election – all in a very short space of time.

Many press conferences also saw Creighton have to deal with “trivial things such as taking questions about her relationship with Enda [Kenny]”, rather than about the party’s policies, he recalls.

Leahy will have more breathing space than his former colleague, but not a huge amount if a general election is called early.

I have a better chance to get to meet people and start building the party from community level up. Lucinda never had that opportunity.

Some of Renua’s policies were criticised, with their flat tax proposal in particular being singled out. The party called for the current income tax regime, USC and PRSI to be replaced with a single flat rate of 23%. Other political parties dismissed the idea, saying it would disproportionately impact people on lower incomes.

Leahy admits the flat tax idea was “perceived as being in favour of rich”, but says the party was right to put it on the agenda and believed it was “the best way to reward working people”.

The policy is currently under review.

Rewarding work

Leahy, who has represented the Ferbane Electoral Area since June 2009,  says the party has one main aim moving forward.

“Renua’s main goal is rewarding all work. There is no clear voice out there for the squeezed middle who are out there at the moment trying to get by.

“They have very little disposable income left at the end of the week after they’ve paid for the mortgage, car, childcare. It feels like people who work in Ireland are constantly penalised.”

2/1/2015. Lucinda Creightons New Political Parties John Leahy with Eddie Hobbs and Lucinda Creighton at the party's launch in January 2015 Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Leahy says a poverty trap exists because some people view being on social welfare as a better option than working if the job pays low wages.

When asked how the party would go about giving people more money, Leahy says the tax system needs to be reviewed and more, better paying jobs need to be created.

“We need to get as many people into the workforce as possible. Then reward them.”

Apple Tax

So, what does he think about the Apple Tax storm that erupted during the week? (The Government yesterday decided to appeal a European Commission ruling that the tech giant pays us €13 billion in back taxes.)

“No one wants to see a company not paying their taxes,” Leahy says.

However, he stresses the importance of foreign direct investment (FDI) to Ireland. About one in five jobs here are provided, either directly or indirectly, by FDI.

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Leahy thinks we might “need to tighten up” our corporation tax system, but Ireland “needs to be seen as a place to do work”.

What has been done in the past has been done to get jobs. I have a difficulty with the EU trying to have an influence … Ireland is used as a pawn in a bigger world market. Lots of countries have been trying to very aggressively attack Ireland in the last 18 months.

“We don’t need the EU telling us how we use our taxes.”

Despite this sounding like a Fine Gael approach, Leahy says the comparisons don’t go much further.

“We’re tagged with right-wing, ‘Fine Gael light’ – if anything, we’re light on Fine Gael now,” he says, referring to the general election casualties.

Leahy says some of the items in the Programme for Government are similar to policies Renua came up with in terms of housing and the self-employed.

If we create a policy and in the morning someone in Government takes is that is success for us. It’s about making Ireland better, not about who came up with the policy.

“People laughed at our idea of a free vote on areas of social consciousness, now other parties are looking at it,” he adds, stressing Renua is still relevant in Irish politics.

The Irish Lib Dems?

Leahy says “a couple of hundred members have renewed membership” and he expects this to grow after the AGM, when he can officially start the rebuilding process as leader.

He says there is huge enthusiasm among party volunteers, who have “never been so determined”.

“We really, really feel we have a message to tell that no other party is telling.”

Earlier this year it was reported that the party was changing its name to the Liberal Democrats.

Leahy says this is not happening. He thinks the party needs to rebuild, not rebrand.

“Renua is the name we’re going to hold. Changing the name doesn’t achieve anything for us.”

“Renua did not do any harm to anyone in this country. We didn’t create the banking crisis, we just tried to start a new party.”

Read: Lucinda’s bad day: Renua has failed to win a single Dáil seat

Read: Spin doctor John Drennan quits Renua after election failure

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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