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Renua's new leader is optimistic about 2017 - just don't mention the flat tax

You won’t find much information on Renua’s website right now – but the party has big plans for 2017.

2/1/2015. Lucinda Creightons New Political Parties John Leahy, alongside former Renua leader Lucinda Creighton and ex-chairman Eddie Hobbs. Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

RENUA’S WEBSITE HAS a big ‘under maintenance’ banner on its homepage at the moment.

The site is only sparsely populated with information – but the party’s new leader insists they’re not going anywhere. In fact, you might be hearing a lot more from them in 2017.

A major “forum” event is being planned for Dublin for the end of January, John Leahy, an Offaly councillor and one of only two elected officials left with the party, told TheJournal.ie in an interview

Leahy, who took over in September, admits the party has essentially “gone to ground”, making few public pronouncements in recent months. Instead, as part of a rebuild exercise, he’s been travelling around the country meeting with candidates who ran under the Renua banner in the election.

One of the messages they’ll be putting out in the new year will be about “rewarding work” for the low to middle income worker, he insisted. Meantime, they’re also examining all of the policies they ran under last time out.

In a phone conversation about his plans for the party, Leahy stressed several times that Renua is in listening mode.

However, it’s already clear one of the more controversial policies they championed in the run up to the general election, the controversial ‘flat tax’ of 23% on all income is already on the scrap heap.

“That’s completely and utterly… Flat tax and Renua will never be in the same sentence again,” said Leahy.

But the concept of looking at our tax system at the moment is fully in play… We will be hosting a forum on new proposals that we have to change our current tax system.

Renua is the only political party “looking at the current tax system and saying it’s not fit for purpose,” he insisted.

Continuing on the theme of “rewarding work”, he added:

In some cases where people are looking at welfare that want to work, it’s more beneficial to be on welfare then it is to be on full-time employment.

In addition to his travels around the country to get to know Renua’s 2016 candidates, the party also held a conference on the issue of emigration in November – addressed by the likes of economist Jim Power, Mark Fielding of business group ISME and Adrian Cummins of the restaurant association.

Leahy expects to be doing more of that sort of thing in the first six months of 2017. Media efforts will be launched each month “hitting specific topics,” he said. The ambition is to build a brand for “a political party that are saying what needs to be said”.

renua1 Renua's controversial (now abandoned) flat tax proposals are still available to view on its website. Source: Renua Ireland

Not a great 2016 

The three Renua TDs who lost their seats in the February general election were all previously members of Fine Gael – parting ways with Enda Kenny’s party at the height of the debate over abortion legislation in 2013.

Financial adviser Eddie Hobbs, a well-known media personality, helped leader Lucinda Creighton launch Renua in spring of last year – but policies like the flat tax simply didn’t resonate with voters, and party figures have admitted that its association with the anti-abortion cause did them no favours on the doorsteps either.

In the wake of the electoral wipeout, Hobbs, who served as party president but didn’t run for office, quit in June. Creighton had already stepped down as leader the previous month, and bowed out from the political scene.

Communications chief and strategist John Drennan also left – and there’s been a series of other less high-profile departures in recent months: Waterford hotelier Mailo Power (Hobbs’ successor as president) quit in November, and by the start of this month Councillor Patrick McKee in Kilkenny and Councillor Keith Redmond of Fingal had also gone.

renua3 The March 2015 version of Renua Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Alongside Leahy, South Dublin councillor Ronan McMahon is the only elected official in the country still plying his trade under the Renua banner.

Despite the rejection of its candidates at the polls, the party still gets €250,000 annual funding until the end of the current Dáil as a result of its 2% showing in the February election.

Election ready? 

Asked whether the like of Hobbs and Creighton have any involvement in the party nowadays, the new leader was keen to set down a marker that Renua was moving on.

“No, they’re totally out of the loop and you can understand why.

Eddie stepped down from his role as president and he has no input into the party. Lucinda likewise, Lucinda has gone a different direction. [...] I suppose if they want to renew their membership that’s entirely up to themselves, but that’s where it stands at the moment.

Fines for candidates campaigning before election called A public meeting poster for then-Renua TD Terence Flanagan on the Kilbarrack Road in Dublin in February. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

So, after a miserable political year, is Renua in any shape to fight a general election?

Considering the funding situation – does it even want one?

“What I’ve found since September – if someone said to me there was a general election in the new year I’d feel we’d be in a better position to fight that general election now.

“With any political party you want the maximum amount of time to get ready but we definitely weren’t ready after me taking over as leader because people needed to meet me, I needed to meet people.

“If there is a general election in the new year Renua will be ready. But we don’t feel there will be a general election – and we have a series of work laid out in terms of campaigns that we’re going to run over the course of six months.

If you were to say to me, well, what do you hope for in 2017? I’d be just hoping that we’d be back on the national stage and that people would feel that we’re relevant – to pick up the phone and say ‘where do you stand on this, where do you stand on the other?’.

Read: Eddie Hobbs has left Renua >

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

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