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In a week full of exciting electoral news from the USA, Scotland, the Maldives and New Zealand, you could be forgiven for missing the fact that one of the parties in the current Irish government coalition has formally disbanded itself.

The Progressive Democrats were founded in 1985 by dissidents from Ireland's main political party, Fianna Fáil; however, they spent almost two thirds of their existence in coalition with the party from which they had originally split (1989-92, 1997-now). The PDs ostensibly endorsed liberal social values (where their clothes have been stolen by FF, and indeed everyone else) and opposed corruption (where they appear to have achieved nothing at all in their years of coalition with FF). The death knell was sounded in last year's election, when they won only two seats in the Dáil compared with 14 at their height in 1987. But really the writing had been on the wall ever since 1992, when the party's founder, Des O'Malley, botched the handover of the party leadership to his designated successor, Mary Harney, and alienated Pat Cox, one of the party's better media performers, to the point that he left the party and ran as an independent in the European Parliament elections of 1994. (I admit that I know and like Cox a lot better than any of the other ex-PDs; there may have been other factors of which I am unaware, but for a small party to discard a figure of his ability was rather wasteful.) Really today's news is about five years too late in coming, one of many things in Irish politics that were distorted by the appalling performance of Fine Gael in 2002, where the PDs were among the numerous unexpected beneficiaries.

So the PDs disappear; their voters will now drift to FG who apparently are enjoying their highest ever poll ratings, seven points clear of Fianna Fáil, for the first time since the 1920s. The one thing they did do was to demonstrate that the sterile structures of Irish politics could be shaken up, and create the basis for other changes to take place (most notably the election of Mary Robinson as President in 1990). But I must say that if I was a member I would be wondering today if it had all been worthwhile.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 9th, 2008 07:10 pm (UTC)
I'm one of those who'd missed the demise of the PDs. They did receive a reasonably high amount of coverage in the UK in the O'Malley era, partly as a point of comparison to the never-quite-realised (at least, not as expected) 'realignment' in British politics in the 1980s.

Interesting to see that Fine Gael are doing so well, too...
Nov. 9th, 2008 07:50 pm (UTC)
I do think it was all worthwhile (although I was not and never would have been a member), but I think they did achieve some things in their time and I think, as you say, they showed that politics could be shaken up. That, if nothing else, in this country still somewhat rooted in the Civil War, is worth quite a bit.
Nov. 9th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC)
I must say that the PDs were the biggest political disappointment I ever come across. When they were founded they presented a real opportunity of a change from the two-clique politics of FF & FG. Unfortunately they became the bandwagon-party and never really presented any real opportunity for change. Like yourself I believe they should have been disbanded long ago. I had hoped they were gone when they performed very poorly in the 1980s but were saved by FF giving them an opportunity to go into coalition.

Nov. 9th, 2008 08:38 pm (UTC)
I spoke to the youth treasurer today, who has put a massive amount of work into the party over the last three years. I asked him the same question: was it worth it? He says yes, definitely. Even though he's never seen the good times.

Apparently some of the youth wing have high hopes of a new liberal party beginning in a few years, once all the fuss had died down. It may be wishful thinking on his part, but the youth (ex-)treasurer thinks that Fiona O'Malley may wish to be a part of it.

The party gave him €1000 to cover the costs of YPDs travelling to Mullingar for the disbandment conference. Well under €200 was spent. I can't say I'm surprised.
Nov. 9th, 2008 09:02 pm (UTC)
Was there, didn't get the tee-shirt
I was a member for the first year, until I became UCC Student Union President, which was technically a non-partisan post. My recollection is that the PDs, in Cork at least, were about two-thirds (or more) refugees from FF under Haughey, and at most one-third people looking for a genuine, new, liberal party. Since the radical wing was always in a minority, and possibly a bit divided between various liberal/neoliberal/free market camps, making the PDs into a genuinely new beast was always going to be an uphill struggle.

Leadership was definitely a problem - the PDs never had a strong leadership figure who was clearly not part of the FF-refugee camp. If they had ever managed to recruit a good, independent, leader, their history might have been very different.

Nov. 11th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Was there, didn't get the tee-shirt
the PDs never had a strong leadership figure who was clearly not part of the FF-refugee camp

Well, I think they did, potentially, but then they knifed him!
Nov. 10th, 2008 01:15 am (UTC)
I think their main practical achievement has probably been bringing in lower rates of personal income tax. All the main parties are now in favour of this in principle.

People like my parents didn't actually vote for them but nonetheless appreciated that thanks to them there are no longer top tax rates of 65%. (My mother still talks about the years when the payroll computers couldn't be adjusted to deduct sufficiently high taxes as PAYE and therefore they got a bill every year for extra tax.) Once the top rate reached something reasonable, though, they would have preferred to see tax bands widen instead of the top rate being cut more.

I have to say I came to dislike them for their "privatise everything in sight" attitude and the lack of compassion exemplified by McDowell. I particularly oppose this co-location business which I think pushes us in the direction of the disastrous U.S. health system.
Nov. 10th, 2008 11:27 pm (UTC)
I'm curious as to whether the PDs can take the benefit for lower taxes (and a less progressive tax system), or whether this was something governments could only bring in because the economy had started picking up. I might have to go and do actual research to see how these things all correlate.
Nov. 10th, 2008 09:49 am (UTC)
I won't miss them. Too little, too late. They have dominated our governments totally disproportionately for bloody years now and have left some seriously poisonous legacies behind them too. There are few things more scary in politics than a man or woman of 'principle' and between McDowell and Harney we have seen that in action.

I am convinced that when Harney took on the Health mantle that she knew that her plans would be unpopular enough kill her party at the polls and decided it was worth sacrificing on the altar of privatization - after all, she had pretty much finished with the party anyway. The PD massacre in the last election was a massive vote against her health policies and the bloody awful irony was that whoever managed to form the next government was going to have to keep her as Minister for Health as the price of her support. Mildly pleasing to see that she might lose it at last now.
Nov. 10th, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC)
Interesting that you date the beginning of the end all the way back to the leadership shenanigans of yonks ago. The Australian Democrats, another would-be mould breaking liberal party, have also crashed and burned recently (even if a few of them haven't given up the ghost), with some tracing the beginning of the end to the same era. One has to wonder if other centrist/liberal parties have done better in their leadership changes.
Nov. 10th, 2008 11:24 pm (UTC)
You missed the other plank of the PDs - market fundamentalism. I think they drifted into that because no one else was heading that way, but once they gave up on it (by recruiting people like Tom Parlon, among other things) it became increasingly hard to see the point of them.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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