O’Gorman: social conscience of the PDs?

Colm O’Gorman has had something of a mauling at the hands of formerly sympathetic voices in the Irish media: from the Sunday Independent to Vincent Browne in the Irish Times (subs needed). Yesterday, the latter gave him a right of reply (subs needed). If the PDs Conference (most pointedly not an Ard Fheis) over obessed on economic development, then O’Gorman has his eyes set on social outcomes.

In an Ireland flushed with our economic success, what matters now is how we use our new-found wealth to ensure that each of our citizens benefits from that success and that those who may be marginalised are not left behind. We must work to ensure that each of us is able to be part of this new Ireland in ways that respect who we are without demanding that we all aspire to be the same.

I believe that the State has a responsibility to recognise and vindicate the rights of its citizens and I believe that we each as citizens have responsibilities to each other both individually and collectively. In that regard, I believe that it is the duty of the State to ensure that it works to properly reflect the balance between those rights and responsibilities in both the development and implementation of policy and legislation.

I believe that the Progressive Democrats is a party which not only holds many of the same principles, but one which is open to having its own views and ideals informed by its members.

  • The PDs are the greatest reason for first past the post voting in the Republic of Ireland.

    They serve only the interests of the economic elite, and dispite their pitiful share of the electorial vote have a massive influence on government policy.

    Good-bye Eircom, Good-bye Aer Lingus, Good-Bye Bus Eireann, Privatisation of the Health Service (Hello BUPA), Good-bye Coillte,

    Is it a matter of time before they put a large for sale sign on top of the Spike, and another one on their Granny…

  • IJP

    To be fair, Mick, the PDs’ “National Conference” (to give it its precise name!) did not, albeit by their own standards, over-do it on the economy.

    The PDs do have, as their basic raison-d’etre, economic development (on the basis of low taxes).

    But in fact few of the Friday night motions mentioned the economy, they gave Ed Hobbs the platform to have a bit of a go at the Government at the Leader’s dinner, and Saturday included some interesting debates on the Irish language and integration of minority groups (among others).

    Mary Harney’s own speech on the Saturday evening (half an hour without notes) focused on the point that economic growth is not a good thing in itself, but because the wealth so gained can be invested in improving public services (not least health, of course).

    As for the generality of encouraging economic growth, without meaning to be too simplistic about it, the North could do with the bit that the South could do without…

  • Crataegus


    Correct me if I am wrong but the PDs would be the sister party of the Alliance in the south. It has always struck an odd association as to me the PDs are to the right of Alliance.

    Locally I would be of the opinion that Alliance needs to consider its image and overall position and perhaps associations like this should come into question?

  • IJP

    Interesting Crataegus.

    However, I think it ludicrous, with respect, to talk about ‘associations like this’ – you make it sound like a paramilitary group!

    Alliance and PDs are associated only through their common membership of pan-national organizations, including ELDR (EU Liberal Democrats), Liberal International and LYMEC (Liberal Youth).

    However, I don’t see the association as anything to be ashamed of!

    Who can have failed to notice the remarkable changearound not just in the Southern economy, but in Southern society during the past 15 years or so? And the PDs have been strongly influential in Government during that period. Not only has it made the Republic nominally the richest state per capita in the EU, but it has led to society becoming secular and more socially liberal almost beyond recognition – with confidence among the people to match. And this turnaround has made the Northern ‘peace process’ practically much easier to manage, not least because relations between Dublin and London are far better than ever before.

    Of course, like any sister Liberal parties, we would disagree on a number of issues. I find the absolute focus on economic growth frankly disturbing, as it eliminates communal well-being from the equation. Not all is well in the Republic – but are people seriously trying to argue the backward farce of a country that existed when the PDs came into being 21 years ago was an improvement on what is there now?!

    So yes, the PDs would be to the right of me and most of my Alliance colleagues. But if Alliance were ‘considering its associations’, would it really be such a good idea to move it away from a party which has secured political influence beyond its numbers, and used that influence to secularize and liberalize society, promote individual responsibility and freedoms, and set up an economic boom with resultant social confidence and progress?

    (I ask that question openly, by the way…)

  • slug

    Alliance is allied with the Lib Dems who believe in tax increases and with the PDs who believe in lowering it.

    Go figure.

  • Brian Boru

    I think the PD’s too often are caricatured by a media largely biased towards socialistic statism and dogooders. I might vote for them.

  • Henry94

    It is worth noting that both Labour and the Greens have pledged not to raise taxes if elected next time.

    So they are saying the PDs were right on their main issue.

  • Brian Boru

    The Greens? Are you sure?

  • Harry

    The PDs are ideological extremists. This is shown by the fact that they haven’t put in place any systems to ameliorate the more detrimantal side of their policies while we’re all on the way to their economic ‘nirvana’. A lack of balance and gradualism are hallmarks of ideological extremism.

  • crataegus


    Wasn’t trying to be malign just curious.

    It occurs to me that Alliance is in a bit of a political hole, which you will of course vociferously deny. It needs to widen its base and I would think the position needs to be what one would consider traditionally Liberal. To my mind the PDs don’t really occupy that territory. More economic liberals which is quite different.

  • Brian Boru

    I think that it is a Liberal party in the economic sense. Economic liberalism was historically about free markets, low taxes, competition and free trade. I think the inclusion of Colm O’Gorman – who would the first openly gay TD if elected, boosts those credentials. Another aspect of liberalism is support for the separation of church and state. Again, the inclusion of O’Gorman, who stood up to the Church over abuse-scandals, together with Liz O’Donnell’s call for an end to the last remnants of the old “special relationship” between the Catholic Church and the State, underlines their liberal credentials – as does Michael McDowell’s sympathetic remarks about same-sex partnerships some time ago.

    Those who accuse them of not being liberal forget the economic aspect of liberalism, and also forget the difference between being a mainstream social-liberal and being a social-liberatarian.

  • Crataegus


    Interesting points, one tends to think of McDowel and Mary when thinking PD’s which of course is wrong.

    One of the problems with the term Liberal is that it can mean virtually anything to anyone. In England I think this is one of the reasons they can’t seem to break through and in NI Alliance have an image problem summed up as, nice people but so what! What is a Liberal Party, and what exactly is the difference between them and other parties? In Britain the differences are fairly marginal and this in part is the reason for the publics declining interest in politics, for after all what difference will it make who gets in?.

    I always thought that Keynesian economics was a more rounded understanding than Adan Smiths Liberal economic agenda. Truly free markets are the law of the jungle for do they not require no restrictions to legal trade, no subsidies and the free movement of labour.

  • Brian Boru

    Crataegus, Keynesianism is a nice theory but has it ever worked? It was tried in Japan for 12 years and it failed to get them out of the doldrums. Same in the US with FDR’s “New Deal”. In the American case the boost for the arms industry in WW2 came to the rescue while it was free market reforms in Japan. I think Adam Smith had generally the right idea.

  • slug

    We have the NI Tories to adopt a centre right position so it probably makes sense for Alliance NI to position themselves on the left somehow. I think of them as being close to the Lib Dems position.

  • Henry94
  • Crataegus


    Would I be right in saying Adam Smith’s economics is the sort of policy that causes famine when there is enough food in a country, because the poor can’t afford the food? Whereas intervention, like famine walls, provide opportunity.

    Japan is an interesting one and it could be argued that the unregulated supply of money caused the property boom in the first place and the delay in recovery had much to do with public confidence or lack thereof. The lesson from Japan is that property bubbles are dangerous beasts and I think it is a lesson we should heed.

  • Brian Boru

    Crataegus I don’t think it would have taken it as far as that. He recognised there were exceptional situations.

  • Keith M

    No party in the history of this state has made the ssame impact on the wellbeing of its citizens as has the PDs. By encouraging competition, breaking down inefficient state monopolies and allowing people to take home a higher percentage of the money they earn this country has been turned around from being a basket case in the early 1980s to the powerhouse it now is. It’s no coincidence that the period of greatest economic growth in this country has coincided with the PDs being in government.

    I despise the termm “social conscience”, it’s one of those all too easily used and abused catchphases. The state’s role in society is to make sure that its citizens are free to work and live in a safe environment. After that it’s a slippery slope to the depths of socialism.

  • I love PD threads. I hate PD’s.

    On O’Gorman. Browne’s headline would have been read two ways – as intended, i.e. O’Gorman made the wrong choice, and otherwise, i.e. PD’s made the wrong choice. It appears to me that the PD’s have needed to soften for some time to appeal to the bleeding heart middle classes, and as such O’Gorman is perfect for them. A nice, socially aware, thoughtful man who retains the economic urgency of the PD’s – therefore it is possible for me to have a social conscience (sorry Keith M) and concurrently vote PD. I am not casting my secret ballot for an evil party – Colm O’Corman likes them too. Masterstroke by the PD’s I’d say.

    As for Browne’s point that O’Gorman made the wrong choice, he makes the point only insofar as he believes that anyone who votes for the PD’s also makes the wrong choice. Not much of an argument there then. Basically VB says that he wouldn’t vote PD, and therefore neither should anyone else, including COG.

    Now, onto Keynes, Smith and so on. Adam Smith’s most notable metaphor was that of the invisible hand of the market, that it is inherently self-regulating. People buy stuff that they want, and what people want companies produce, and what people demand will be provided by companies who can turn that demand into a profit.

    This theory can be applied to health care, security, and everything that people need. Ultimately, everything that the state provides can, in theory, be provided by the private sector. The government therefore is viewed as a corporation, providing goods and services that people need; services which could also be provided by big business. Think small countries and Halliburton. Why couldn’t a company like Halliburton provide everything needed to run a small country? That’s the theory.

    Here’s why it’s wrong. The socially disadvantaged remain so, and the cycle of poverty is perpetuated. Art and culture are infused only with vanity value, and not ideological or identity value. Culture becomes brand. Labour protection is done away with, which is fine for high fliers who *should* perform if they are to keep their jobs, but less so for minimum wage earners who would struggle were they to miss one week’s wages. Not everyone has an SSIA, not everyone own’s a house thgat has appreciated ridiculously in value.

    Here’s a practical problem. McDowell won’t hire any more Gardai, and Harney won’t hire any more nurses because they insist on getting the number of civil servants down. Money in education is being spent on schools, but not on teachers. More posts in the civil service than ever are now contract positions. Therefore you have an ideological battle within the PD’s itself, on the one hand holding fast to the principle of small government, and on the other plugging the hole in the A&E dyke with Mary’s thumb. McDowell is proud of his Garda Reserve force innovation, but only because he has managed to find away to say to the electorate that the number of Gardai has gone up without hiring anyone. It is an intellectual snobbery that gets him there, like a game – we have rules by which to play, and the fun is in finding ways around them. They simply do not appreciate, and will not appreciate, how the rules need to change.

    It is the classic Gordian Knot. McDowell is no Alexander.

  • Henry94

    Anthony B

    I think you are close to getting to the limititations of the PD approach. But it also the limitation of the lefts approach.

    If you take an ideological position for or against public services you end up doing the public a disservice. We need public services and we want public services but our experience of them is that they are wasteful an inefficent.

    By voting for tax-cuts people are sending a message that they want value for money and don’t believe we are getting it.

    Those who believe in public services should be demonstrating how (and where) they can work. Then the PDs would have a much harder sell.

  • Henry, ‘If you take an ideological position for or against public services…’ – agreed, for example Sinn Fein appear equally absolutist in their recent health policy document. On can aspire perhaps to a Cuban health service, but only insofar as one can avoid the bad stuff that goes with it. There is a place for the private sector, but it needs boundaries.

    The PD’s however appear as ideologically absolutist and intransigent as Sinn Fein in this area. But the PD’s are in government. Government, and politics, is about compromise, and arriving at a sensible conclusion from myriad ideologies.

    The problem of the health service is that they do not need more infrastructural investment, but actually need more staff (or alternately resourced numbers, e.g. more doctors less administrators). Beds are not about beds per se, but the doctors and nurses to service those beds. Think about it – you see problems in the health service, so you decide to spend lots of money on it, but ban additional staff. The theory is that with almost unlimited resources (apart from people), that the system will figure out a way. It has patently failed because what the system needs is more doctors and nurses.

    I don’t believe people will vote for tax cuts this time, and I think that more than ever they will vote for performance (or lack of it). The PD’s are going after the middle income middle ground. I think Fine Gael are right in targeting crime and health, the two platforms upon which the PD’s have set their stall. The economy will shore up the core vote for Fianna Fail. Fine Gael will take votes from the PD’s, and some from Fianna Fail, possibly enough to deny them the PR bonus, and maybe enough with the PD swing to claim it for themselves. The questions after that are whether Labour can take some of the Fianna Fail vote, and whether Sinn Fein will begin to translate their first preference percentages into a similar percentage of seats.

    On your final point, the PD’s have never set any limitations for the privatisation of public services. Everything is fair game, lest you tarnish the rest with a default on the ideology.

  • I should add that Seamus Brennan (PD in FF clothing) was on ‘The Week in Politics’ last night blaming the system for the problems in the health service. He basically said that the government has tripled spending and hired 40,000 more staff in nine years, and the system should offer a return for that investment, but the system has failed. Like this is not his / the government’s fault. Apparently FF/PD’s are not part of ‘the system’.

  • IJP


    Quite the contrary, I agree with you!

    I detected a bit of devil’s advocacy in your initial query, and there was plenty in my response!

    Your initial query and response indicate to me what I’ve long thought – that Alliance probably needs to play the ‘Liberal’ card more openly. We did this at Queen’s recently (referred to on Slugger) to try to get 15 backers for re-establishing our society there. We got 28.

    As Slug would say, ‘go figure’!


    Any pan-European party group will have disagreements – I mean, even within the UK some ‘Greens’ officially support the euro and some oppose it; NI Tories were anti-Agreement, Tory HQ in favour; and so on.

    But in my opinion, yours is not a good example of such a disagreement. It is my view, for example, that taxes in Scandinavia are too high and in the US are too low. In Scandinavia I would advocate lower taxes, in the US I would advocate higher taxes – but these positions are not contradictory. They merely indicate my view that a successful society is one that balances state intervention where necessary with individual freedom where possible, and that tax rates should reflect that balance. I think most PDs and most LibDems would agree.

    But certainly, notions of pan-European ‘Socialism’, ‘Liberalism’ or ‘Conservatism’ are vastly under-researched and really quite interesting. In the end, they show why we need to increase cooperation, but they also show what a nonsense a European superstate would be – another balance…!

  • Lorenzo

    Unfortunately I don’t have a reference link but there was some research done on who voted for which party. The party that had the richest supporters was not the PDs but … the Greens. So much for pandering to the elites. PD support was predominantly from the middle classes which these days, if David McWilliams is to be believed, is the majority.