Accountability the priority of new party
Ireland's newest national party, while too small to be a major player in the next elections, could add a new dimension to Irish political debate. The Priorities Party, launched on 21 April by defectors from opposite ends of Ireland's narrow political spectrum, is running on a ticket of political standards, accountability and transparency.
Founder Florence Craven quit Fine Gael for its pay increases and failing to curtail Fianna Fáil, while fellow member Leo Armstrong became disillusioned for what he saw as the Green Party's silence on entering government.The party has close to the 100 members needed to register as a political party and Craven hopes it will have a “handful of councillors” to contest the 2009 elections.
Adopting a revolutionary tone, the online manifesto of the “party with a social conscience” calls for a political reformation that would see politicians' expense accounts curbed, ministerial positions allocated on work experience and the number of TDs and councillors drastically reduced.
It recommends wage transparency for public representatives, the upper echelons of business, universities and the civil service. “Everyone should start with an appropriate salary, and then receive increases, and decreases, as deserved,” it reads.
But Craven rejects the socialist label. “I've never seen myself as a socialist, we just want a fair deal for everybody –seeking people's priorities shouldn't be classed as left or right.”
Indeed, described by one newspaper as centre-right, the Priorities Party policies are too wide ranging to fit any tidy classification as left or right wing.
This is evident in certain catch-all, middle-of-the-road statements, one of which asks for worker protection and employer power to be curtailed in equal measure.
Craven, who has a PhD in Women and Gender Studies in Trinity, said politics had lost sight of basic principles and commonsense.
She identified health, economy, transport, employment, justice, consumer rights and social family affairs as the issues that matter to the vast majority of people.
Along with the stock standard demands of improving the delivery of road infrastructure and health and education services, the party expounds other, more unorthodox policies such as encouraging people to grow fruit to save money on medication; means-testing for the imposition of VAT and harsher penalties for criminal offenders. “It is time to implement a justice system with back-bone” that applies equally to “white collar and legal professionals,” it said.
In one of their first local actions, the party launched a boycott of Tesco stores in Kildare, Mayo, Wexford and Cork after it was reported that the UK retailer was charging up to 50 per cent more for products in Ireland than in British stores.
Whether such actions will resonate with voters is too soon to tell but the strategy of running on a platform of political accountability is a timely move and could be just what the voters ordered.