Efforts are under way to expel controversial senator Fidelma Healy-Eames from Fine Gael and force her to hand over her membership card — however the Galwegian could become a symbol for tensions within the party over the current leadership.
This week Sen Healy-Eames received a letter from Fine Gael HQ informing her that she can “expect to be called before a disciplinary committee of the party”. The letter said it was for two breaches against the party whip - voting against the Abortion Bill in July and for voting against an EU directive on organ donation in the Seanad on August 22.
Sen Healy-Eames was expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party in July for voting against the Government’s Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, and in August was informed by party HQ general secretary Tom Curran that she was “not entitled” to call herself a FG senator and “no longer entitled to sit at the top table at constituency meetings” or to “attend any branch meeting” except that of her own FG branch in Maree.
As a result the senator was “puzzled” to be threatened with a disciplinary committee over her August 22 vote as she was, by then, no longer in the parliamentary party and was not bound by the whip to vote with it.
Speaking to the Galway Advertiser, Sen Healy-Eames said: “I had already been expelled following the first vote. Now it appears to be a case of trying to control me while being outside of the parliamentary party. Hardly the actions of a tolerant organisation.”
As it stands, she is still a card carrying member of the party, but the committee has the power to expel her from Fine Gael completely.
Sen Healy-Eames has alleged that the action is being taken against her due to a letter written to the party HQ by the officer board of the Galway West Fine Gael executive. The Maree woman has long been a controversial figure within the party and many would see her current semi-detached status as an opportunity to get rid of her.
Such a feeling would be heightened by the fact that in September, Sen Healy-Eames, along with TDs Lucinda Creighton, Terence Flanagan, Peter Matthews, and Billy Timmins, and Senator Paul Bradford - who had also voted against the Abortion Bill - and TD Denis Naughten, became part of the Reform Alliance grouping within the Dáil and that there is much speculation that it could evolve into a new political party,
However Sen Healy-Eames, despite allying herself with the group and calling herself a Reform Alliance Senator in recent press statements, told the Advertiser she had no intention of resigning from Fine Gael and was determined to “fight to retain my ordinary membership”.
“For 16 years I have been politically active and dedicated to Fine Gael,” she said. “I will fight to keep my ordinary card carrying membership of the party because I have done nothing wrong. I kept my word. I remained true to my values and the party’s values.”
Her determination to remain within Fine Gael appears genuine as she has pledged to give conditional support to the current Fine Gael-Labour Government. “I cannot be taken for granted on all votes but where Government and the party is doing its best by the people, I will always be supportive,” she said.
However her disaffection with the party leadership could be seen as symbolising divisions within the party over An Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s recent leadership style; the fiasco of the failed Seanad abolition referendum; and the emergence of the dissident Reform Alliance.
“I have remained loyal to its core values,” said Sen Healy-Eames, “but I am beginning to think, as are others, that it may be time to start a debate among party membership about its values so FG doesn’t lose its way.”
In saying this, the Maree politician could set off a wider debate within the party. Although there is no threat to Dep Kenny’s position, Sen Healy-Eames comments could allow others, who hold a similar view to her, to become more public over their misgivings about the Taoiseach’s style of leadership.
“My values are still the core values of the party and they are worth fighting for, even if democracy is no longer a value of the leadership,” she said. “The Seanad referendum was testimony to the disdain of the current leadership for what have long been the core values of Fine Gael - honesty, integrity, debate, tolerance. But for once and thanks to our Constitution, the Irish people were in a position to set the record straight.”
Sen Healy-Eames said there is a lack of debate within the party due to a culture where there is a “fear to speak out”. However she said she is determined to pay a role in the “renewal of the party”.
“No one said it is easy but Fine Gael can be so much more,” she said. “The members are there to make it happen and the Irish people are calling for strong leadership but first there must be change, there must be renewal. If I give up easily I will not contribute to this process either.”