PDs: “…a one-generation party of conviction politicians”

The Irish Times has an aptly succinct and laconic account of the demise of the Progressive Democrats. Not least on the factors which lately brought them to the end:

…time, energy and public support eventually ran out after 10 continuous years in government with Fianna Fáil. The PDs turned out to be a one-generation party of conviction politicians. Its control of the high moral ground was compromised when it flip-flopped over support for Bertie Ahern’s unorthodox financial dealings in the general election campaign. And when their leader, Michael McDowell, abandoned them, and Mary Harney declined to fill the void, there could be no coming back.


  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    The PD were the self-appointed guard dog that did not bark – most disgracefully in the run up to the last election – in spite of the fact that the burglars had taken up residence in the (Leinster) house.

  • ulsterfan

    There was a need for them in Irish politics.
    They had to find a home to get away from CJ Haughey and his cronies.
    FF now may not be any more honourable but at least the Haughey factor is no longer relevant.
    The PDs were a party of protest and could not survive on that alone.

  • The Irish Times piece seems more in sorrow than in anger: though the PDs are due a lot of the latter. It also feels something like Nil nisi bonum de mortuis.

    The PDs were a small local sect of classical liberal orthodoxy: small state, low taxes, privatise the lot, to hell with the hindmost. I find it difficult to reconcile their posturing on “liberal” social issues with the way they then voted against most of them. Harney, for her efforts to privatise medicine and social welfare on a US model [“Closer to Boston than Berlin”: pass the sick bag, Alice!] deserves particular vilification. She has achieved the result that half the population between youth and old age have no reliable health-provision whatsoever. Even those who achieve the “card” seem to have it withdrawn at bureaucratic convenience. The RoI is one of the few “civilised” nations where one can be deported for poor health.

    The RoI has never been short of right-wing nuts. This lot will not be greatly missed.There’ll be another bandwagon along in a while.

  • Mick Fealty

    I prefer Ken Tynan’s advice on good review writing, not least his thoughts on melancholia: http://tinyurl.com/3lxk32.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    To be fair to the PDs they were vilified for adopting Tory tax policy which then became the policy of all the major Irish parties. I never heard the main parties acknowledge this as they later competed between themselves to lower taxes.

    Its a bit like the Labour party in the UK who also adopted the tory tax and economic reform – but unlike in Ireland – Blair did at least admit that he was riding on Maggie’s back – if you’ll pardon the imagery.

  • Dave

    Poor Malcolm believes that health care occurs independently of taxation and that taxation occurs independently of wealth-creation by the capitalist class.

    All of the considerable improvements in health care have been paid for by the activities of the wealth-creating class and not by the hatemongers on the left who only have self-indulgent dreams about distributing wealth that others have created and have no ability whatsoever to create that wealth. We should find a useful purpose for socialists in the economy by using them as an alternative source of fuel or organic compost.

    The great service that the PDs did for Ireland is that they forced FF to adopt their economic policies as a condition of coalition. The ironic downside for the PDs is that they became redundant as their polices became mainstream. That was a price well worth paying for true patriots.

  • Dave @ 08:36 PM:

    Poor Malcolm believes that health care occurs independently of taxation and that taxation occurs independently of wealth-creation by the capitalist class.

    “Poor Malcolm”? What’s poor about an attractive early retirement offer the day before one’s fiftieth birthday? What’s wrong with a piece of prime North London real estate, still worth forty times what Malcolm paid for it? [OK: it would have been fifty times just last year.] Four overseas holidays this year, and still counting? Three daughters all through university and in the professions? Wife’s golf-club subscription next week, budgeted for? What’s poverty there?

    Mayhap Dave @ 08:36 PM was implying intellectual poverty. Well, that’s a value-judgment. “Poor Malcolm” will admit that, only this afternoon, he completed re-shelving over 250 linear feet of his books in his adapted attic. That’s why “poor Malcolm”, in a few lines time will correctly spell “bail-out” (because he knows it derives from the French baille, a bucket).

    Malcolm is well aware that healthcare costs: which is why he doesn’t believe it should be the exclusive prerogative of the well-off. After all, we tax the least-well-off with about a decade less life-expectancy.

    Nor does Malcolm believe “wealth-creation” is exclusively done by the wide boys and city slickers. It’s done by the people who make things and grow things, provide added value and social worth, and who don’t get trillion dollar bail-outs when times are hard.

    So here’s a prime example of what Malcolm guesses Dave @ 08:36 PM might describe as “wealth-creation”:

    In 2007, Wall Street’s five biggest firms — Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, and Morgan Stanley — paid a record $39 billion in bonuses to themselves.

    That’s $10 billion more than the $29 billion loan taxpayers are making to J.P. Morgan to save Bear Stearns.

    Those 2007 bonuses were paid even though the shareholders in those firms last year collectively lost about $74 billion in stock declines — their worst year since 2002.

    If split equally among the approximately 186,000 workers at the former Big Five Houses, that bonus money means an average of $201,500 per person — more than four times the $48,201 median household income in the U.S. last year.

    What makes that even more poignant, in this context, is those 186,000 “workers”: many now out-of-a-job; but also thereby out of healthcare benefits. But that’s the system Mary Harney sees as appropriate for the RoI: it should go smilingly well alongside the cancer fiascos (about which she was conveniently “kept in the dark”). Or the cocked-up contracts. Or the … etc.etc.

    Now, does anyone want to discuss why Justice McKechnie accepted in the High Court that the RoI health-insurance market was “anti-competitive”? Of course the buyers of healthcare insurance already knew that: costs doubled over eight years. The result was that BUPA (one of the most successful — commercially, reputationally, and in terms of provision — of European private healthcare operations) was driven out of the RoI market. Another provider, Vivas, appealed for equity to the European Commissioner for the Internal Market (one Charlie McCreevy, famous as FF Finance Minister for describing the RoI health system as “a black hole”).

    To think, if it hadn’t been for red-scares, bigotry and clerical arm-twisting, the RoI could have had proper social health insurance as far back as 1948. But that wouldn’t be capitalist, would it?

  • Danny O’Connor

    conviction politicians as opposed to politicians with convictions

  • Mr E Mann

    >conviction politicians as opposed
    >to politicians with convictions

    they just haven’t been convicted yet

  • Dave

    Malcolm, terrible, innit? And to think that if only the government told folks to spend a small amount of their loose change on health insurance policies instead of drink, horses, Armani suits, and new cars, there wouldn’t be any problems.

    This is what happens when socialists tell the people that they don’t need to provide for their own long-term needs because the State (i.e. other taxpayers) will pay their bills for them.

    If your lot didn’t indoctrinate people with those lies then they wouldn’t be at the mercy of those who have provided for their own needs and don’t feel inclined to work harder and pay more taxes just to provide for the needs of those who haven’t bothered their feckless arses to provide for their own needs.

  • I share IT writer Stephen Collins’ perspective that the party in the end was not radical enough. Under O’Malley and Harney it had espoused (at least before she became health minister) not merely a low-tax but also a Small Government message. The 2002 manifesto in particular, with its ambitious agenda of privatising most of the semi-states including the ESB and Bord Gáis, demonstrates this, and such a drive for Small Government was absent from the 2007 manifesto. I agree too with SC that the turning-point was the decision to re-enter govt with Fianna Fáil in 2002 when they weren’t needed (as FF could have governed with Independent support). This made their influence in Term 2 miniscule compared to term one, where the bottom and marginal rates of income tax were cut from 26-48 to 20-42 respectively. In Term 2, PD policies were frustrated (delay in Aer Lingus privatisation for 4 years) or blocked by FF (e.g. cafe-bars, private-sector second terminal at Dublin airport, cutting the top-rate to 40%, stamp-duty reform). The decision to take non-economic ministries in 2002 (justice and health) was also a mistake, as they reduced the electorate’s identification of the PDs with the Celtic Tiger that had pertained when Harney was Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister. Finally, the party alienated voters of both the FF and FG gene-pool both in terms of 1st-preference votes and transfers by its humming and hawing over whether to pull out of government with Fianna Fáil over the Bertiegate revelations. This more than likely cost McDowell and Parlon in particular their seats. But I still believe that there is room in the Irish political-system for a Small Government, Low Tax party. But by compromising so much with FF as became inevitable by entering govt with them in 2002 when their leverage had been drowned in Dail arithmetic, they lost their credibility as being such a party. Maybe Libertas or FG can now fill that void, but it would require FG to end their opposition to private-hospitals and to embrace public-sector reform. They are showing some promise on the latter but not the former.

  • Comrade Stalin

    This is what happens when socialists tell the people that they don’t need to provide for their own long-term needs because the State (i.e. other taxpayers) will pay their bills for them.


    Most countries in Europe have some kind of socially organized healthcare system. You don’t have to nationalize the lot for it to work. Capitalism’s near-death experience currently being worked out in the USA and the UK isn’t having anything like the same sort of negative impact in France, the country that we’ve all been told will keel over one day if it doesn’t tackle all the yucky “socialism”. Other staes like Denmark and Sweden all have extensive social systems. Guess what – the people there are very happy with it and the economies in those countries are productive.

    The argument about the state diverting money away from people and then spending it in a less efficient way than they would is one that I would ordinarily accept, but it does not work here. Healthcare costs in the USA are substantially higher than they are anywhere else in the world. So while people there can exercise their own choice about whether to purchase insurance or not, those who decide to do so are paying substantially more than they otherwise would under a system run in the same fashion as, say, the one in France or Germany. Much of this is money that is being directed into the pockets of middle men in the insurance companies. The whole idea of capitalism is to allocate resources more efficiently, and that is not what happens in countries where healthcare systems are largely operated privately.

  • andy

    As an outsider may i ask if the PDs position on what could quaintly be called “the national question” hastened their decline?

    I am presuming not in this day and age but would be interested in hearing other view points.


  • Dave @ 11:06 PM:

    Sorry: haven’t got time for ranting trolls.

    Come up with an argument: preferably one that’s been buffed up with a smigeon of evidence or fact.

    If all else fails, look at the approach by FutureTaoiseach @ 03:22 AM: I don’t have to agree with his/her conclusions (although I largely do), but at least there’s some material to muse on. She/he stayed on topic (unlike myself), while providing the provocative thought for which I frequent these bourns of wisdom.

    In passing, the other half of Comrade Stalin @ 08:32 AM‘s observation that:

    Healthcare costs in the USA are substantially higher than they are anywhere else in the world…

    should be, “but, buck-for-buck, with worse outcomes”. Curiously, the other thing about those dreadful “socialistic” healthcare systems is that they deliver more efficiently and effectively than the free-market system. Which, of course, is a thoroughly capitalistic argument.

    Funnily enough, too, when any society is faced with a real health crisis, an epidemic or disaster, it tends to reach for the “socialistic” solution. Even the great US of A.

    As for the real topic, the nature and failure of the PDs, I still am not impressed. After 1969 the RoI party political structure began to fragment: there were nine governments of different textures and persuasions in thirty years (almost up to Italian standards). Increasingly it became, indeed remains government by opinion poll. In such circumstances, the emergence of the PDs could be predicted, though I would hestitate to agree with the thrust by ulsterfan on Sep 22, 2008 @ 04:45 PM: the worst of Haughey was the early 1970s, while the PDs only emerged blinking into the open in ’85. They were a reaction against FF’s and, notably, Haughey’s total lack of any ideology: they certainly compensated for that with a plethora of documentation. And that should lead us to consider at greater length than I have time now the admirable, if supremely irritating Des O’Malley.

    Of which, perhaps, more later here or elsewhere.

  • RepublicanStones

    I won’t miss the PD’s truth be told, except for instances like this, anyone else remember the rumble in Ranelagh? And how prophetic was Gormely?


  • Comrade Stalin

    I skipped over futuretaoiseach’s post the first time around, mainly because there are no paragraphs in it. Like you, Malcolm, I don’t agree with it, but it does at least contain astute arguments.

    The lasting statement I remember that I will always associate with the PDs is Mary Harney’s comment when asked by a reporter what the objective of the PDs was. Mary replied “The objective of the PDs is to be in government”. I don’t think it was a soundbite, I think it really was how they saw themselves.

    The Irish healthcare system is in a right mess and it needs to be sorted out with some proper state investment in the health system. On the other hand, we could certainly use a party like the PDs to do a bit of union-busting in CIE. I am supportive of trade unions and collective bargaining, but that is not what the greedy, fat bastards in the bus and train unions are about; they are about sucking the taxpayer dry and it’s high time it was stopped.

  • Nathan

    Presently, I marvel at how such a tiny party lasted for as long as it did.

    RIP darlings, you’re services are no longer required.

  • IJP


    To be fair, France’s economic indicators are no better than the UK’s and Denmark’s was the first EU economy into recession.

    The lesson, really, is that there is no “perfect” system.