Saturday, November 8, 2008

Irelands PDs are no more-Today the party votes itself out of existence

A special conference of the Progressive Democrats has voted for the party to go out of existence, after the leadership stated it was no longer politically viable.
Delegates voted by holding voter registration cards aloft. The final tally was 201 votes to 161 against a motion to continue with the party.

The PDs were founded in 1985 following a split in the Haughey led FF party. This split had its genesis in the arms trial of 1970. This was an opportune time to found a new political party in Ireland as the economy was struggling.
FF TDs Desmond O’Malley, Mary Harney, Bobbie Molloy and Pearse Wyse left to form the new political party. They were joined by FG TD Michael Keating. Michael McDowell (not a TD at this time) also left FG to join the new party.

The PDs took on the mantle of tax cutters and proclaimed themselves as liberal on social issues. O’Malley and Harney when members of FF staunchly supported the disastrous FF Manifesto which swept FF to power in the 1977 general election. This give away manifesto was a major causative factor of Irelands economic problems in the 1980s. It was the brainchild of Martin O’Donoghue who also joined the new PD party. In the 1987 general election the PDs won 14 seats mainly at the expense of FG. Indeed FG never fully recovered from the PD threat until the 2007 general election.

The party’s strongholds were: Waterford city, Cork city, Limerick, Galway and parts of South Dublin.

In reality the party was an uneasy amalgam of anti- Haugheyite FFers, independents, carpetbaggers , political opportunists and extreme right wingers, many of whom failed to progress in FG and FF. It frequently in its initial stages poached FF and FG members. It never became a fully-fledged national political party. In reality the strongholds were personal fiefdoms. In most parts of Ireland, PDs were as scarce as icebergs in the Sahara. In contrast FF and FG have members in every parish. These are the eyes and ears of those parties. The PDs once proposed to remove God from the constitution-further emphasizing their lack of the common touch.

After the highs of the 1987 general election the new party gradually lost popular support. It fell into decline in Waterford and Cork. In Waterford PD TD Martin Cullen defected to FF. It lost Pat Cox following a divisive leadership contest involving Mary Harney and Cox. In its initial phase it put tax cuts and competition on the agenda. Frequently these were delivered in a cynical manner. The revenue foregone was recovered by means of Stealth Taxes.

Fortuitously for the PDs the party managed to secure the election of sufficient TDs to go into coalition with FF on four separate occasions. In essence the party became FF’s mudguard. However it had many apologists in the media.

In the 21st century the party had dispensed with any pretensions to radicalism. It binned any real commitment to tax cuts. It cynically supported FFs huge public expenditure splurges in the run in to the 2002 and 2007 general elections. In the 2002 general election it fared reasonably well by securing eight seats with a miniscule share of the vote. Some FG supporters switched to the PDs to prevent an overall FF majority. When Michael McDowell replaced Mary Harney as leader he became more FF than FF itself. McDowell continued to savagely attack FG. This was political folly as he had secured election largely with loaned FG votes. Mary Harney ran into serious difficulties as Minister for Health.

The electorate finally administered the coup de grace in the 2007 general election. The PDs returned with just two TDs- Mary Harney and Noel Grealish. The party lost high profile TDs such as McDowell, Liz O’Donnell, Tim O’Malley and Tom Parlon. It was fatally wounded even though once more it joined FF and the Greens in coalition.

Since the 2007 general election the party has continued to haemorrhage support. PD TD Noel Grealish intended to join FF.
Mercifully today the party was put out of its misery. Mary Harney intends to function as an independent whilst Fiona O’Malley and Noel Grealish will join FF. Party leader Ciaran Cannon may join FG. FG is the party, which stands to gain most as the PDs-though an FF splinter party- managed to siphon off support mainly from FG.

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