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.