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The PDs: Not so much mould-breakers as pushing an open door… July 27, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

I was once having a discussion with smiffy, of this parish, about Fianna Fáil – this being when it was the largest party, and how a determined left party might be able to put its imprint on a coalition with them, given the tropes that FF liked to put around about having a mild watery leftism, whatever about the reality of same. And I pointed to how the PDs had managed to push FF further right. To which came the reasonable response that the PDs were effectively pushing an open door, driving FF no further than that party wished to go but giving it cover for that process.

And while Pat Leahy is sometimes taken to task on this site his overview of the FF governments of the 2000s certainly bears this out, where there seems under FF to have been remarkable latitude given to individual Ministers and their rightward drift and in particular the axis of Charlie McCreevy and the PD Ministers. Would a genuinely combative Labour or A.N. Other party have managed to do the same? Probably not, though ironically we may see the process from the other direction should an SF led coalition with FF emerge.

All these musings are sparked by the death of Des O’Malley and the impact he made. In some ways he was remarkably low key – even more so than his successor as leader of the PDs, Mary Harney, and it was always the PDs more than him (at least in my recollection) which was the source of hostility and antagonism, much of it well-deserved antagonism. But then the reality was that the PDs were always much more a splinter from FF than anything else, and served a useful purpose in mopping up some Fine Gael tending voters too. Their heyday saw them occupying curious ground – a sort of liberalism and economic conservatism (shading even more economically rightwards amongst some of their supporters and members). Tellingly it was on the first area that O’Malley explicitly broke with FF – though through an abstention on a vote rather than outright opposition, but it was the second that predominated. And yet, place him back in FF and one wonders would one have noticed him standing out to any great degree in that cohort?

And after? The PDs went on their way straight back to Fianna Fáil and government. This seeming contradiction tells us much about the nature of the state and the electorate during that period, that time and again there was acceptance of FF government, even FF government led by Haughey, but only in the context of the PDs being there. And it is not even as if the PDs served as a mudguard to FF. Remarkably all that came later seemed to do little enough damage to them, at least until 2007 (though they were remarkably fortunate with the numbers of seats they retained and gained on as little as 4% of the vote from the early 1990s onwards until the catastrophic 2007 election where they garnered 2.7% of the vote and just two seats).

Which raises an interesting question, what changed then? But perhaps as interesting is why the PDs folded up as a going concern and essentially moved off, some becoming born-again Independents, others going to FG and still others fading out of political activity. And when one thinks of it isn’t it curious how FF itself began to disintegrate from that period on, albeit at a slower rate?

A party that raises no end of questions.


1. oliverbohs - July 27, 2021

Can only remember a radio news report about the party’s árd-fheis around that time where the big idea was an outer motorway in Leinster linking the M1 to the M7. FG and Labour’s election ticket was ‘rip-off Ireland’. Their pro-business stance was unremarkable


2. irishelectionliterature - July 28, 2021

The PDs in a way and you described it in the post got a lot of what they stood for done. There’s only a certain amount you can lower taxes by and only a certain amount of things that people will put up with being privatised.
One of their other pillars was fiscal responsibility. A lot of that went out the window with the Thornton Hall debacle. They were also the “watchdog” on FF and there’s only so long that works.
Their 2007 campaign was also based in part of the fears of a left wing Government containing Labour (they needn’t have worried). McDowell himself was never too popular with the public.
The other thing was that they never had that strong an organisation on the ground, so we’re totally reliant on their “big hitters”.


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