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The PDs July 27, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

A strange piece by Stephen Collins in the IT just before the weekend where he suggested (and this was noted in the Sunday Stupid statement slot as well) that:

The PDs remained a significant policy force for almost a quarter of a century and could claim a number of important achievements on social and economic policy during the party’s four terms in coalition. Ultimately, though, it was the party’s stance on the North that defined its identity and after the Belfast Agreement its primary objective had been realised.

But one only has to go to the PDs own website from the 2000s to see that the party’s stance on the North had little or nothing to do with defining its identity. This from the Wayback Machine is striking:

About the Progressive Democrats

The Progressive Democrats is a liberal Party which was formed in 1985 by Desmond O’Malley, Mary Harney and Michael McDowell to break the mould of Irish politics and give the Irish voters a new and real alternative to the Civil War parties then dominating Irish politics.

The party has campaigned on prudent financial management, reduced taxes and an increased role for the individual in all walks of Irish life.

The Party has been in Government three times from 1989-1992, from 1997 – 2002 and are serving in the current government which was formed in June 2002.


In Government the Progressive Democrats successfully campaigned to:

  • Cut the basic rate of tax for one million taxpayers from 26% to 20%.

  • Cut the higher rate of tax for the first time in five years, from 48% to 42%, benefiting 400,000 people.

  • Reduce Capital Gains Tax rate from 40% to 20%, encouraging greater investment in business activity generally.

  • Reduce unemployment to the lowest figure in decades, way below the EU average.

  • Reduce long-term unemployment to under 2%.

  • Introduce the minimum wage by our leader Mary Harney in April 2002.

  • The old-age pension target of £100 per week on track for new target of €200 per week.

  • Massive increase for the funding of social services – health, education and welfare.

It beggars belief that if indeed Northern Ireland was so central to its identity that it wouldn’t have mentioned this either in the outline of its formation, or more particularly in reference to its campaigns. 

The Policy platform is available on the same site in PDF form. In it are listed ‘Our Core Values’ taken from the Party’s Constitution. Here there is passing reference to unity:

• Build in Ireland a democratic society organised on republican principles, in which legislation, where possible, allows citizens freedom of choice free from unnecessary state interference and regulation, taking into account the views of minorities.

• Promote policies that allow individuals, each in their own way, reach their maximum potential and protect and help weak and deprived members of society and promote social justice for all

• Establish and maintain laws that safeguard the rights of the individual and to minimise unnecessary regulation by the State in the affairs of its citizens.

• Ensure that while society gives the individual rights, the individual has a corresponding responsibility towards society.

• Promote liberal economic policies that: foster competition and innovation; reward initiative and encourage ever-greater economic and political participation by all its citizens; and promote sub- sidiarity and balanced regional development.

• Foster a fair and just system of taxation that promotes the work ethic and encourages creative endeavour.

• Ensure that the wealth produced by this nation is wisely used to afford a decent standard of living to all its citizens.

• Ensure that the legislative, judicial and administrative arms of government function independently, effectively and with accountability to safeguard the common good.

• Conserve, protect and enhance the natural, the physical and the built environment of Ireland, promote sustainable development and foster civic awareness and pride.

• Promote unity of the Irish people by peaceful means based on consent and pluralist principles.

• Promote and maintain laws that reflect the independence of both Church and State while valuing the contribution to society of religious and philosophical beliefs.

• Promote and support the development of community and voluntary organisations. • Safeguard and develop all strands of Irish culture, language and heritage.
• Promote a European Union dedicated to liberal and democratic principles.

The same document has a somewhat more expansive take on the North:

New Ireland

Reaching agreement on the Good Friday Agreement is one of the central achievements of this government. The Agreement provides the framework for both communities to work together in peace. It also settles the constitutional question and makes clear that the people of Northern Ireland have the final say on their constitutional status.

Paramilitary activity has dropped dramatically as a result of the Agreement. Much practical progress has also been made. The North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) has met 65 times. But fully implementing the Agreement has proved difficult and time-consuming. Unionists were reluctant to enter the Northern Ireland Executive while the IRA retained its arsenal. The IRA was reluctant to live up to the aims of the Agreement that full decommissioning would have taken place within two years.

In late 2004, talks were held at Leeds Castle to resolve these issues. We stood firm in the face of the refusal of the IRA to commit themselves to respecting people’s human rights. Within months that position was vindicated when the IRA carried out the Northern Bank robbery and associated kidnappings. Later, IRA members brutally murdered Robert McCartney.

Current Background

The IRA has decommissioned its weapons. Sinn Fein has endorsed policing and the PSNI. On the 26th March last, we witnessed unprecedented, positive and welcome developments with agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP on the restoration of the devolved institutions. This new Executive must be able to discharge its responsibilities with full and immediate effect from May onwards.

Other issues that remain open regarding Northern Ireland include:
• Eliminating sectarianism at local level.
• Promoting cross-border social and economic activity.
• Enhancing cross-border cooperation between the two governments.

New Opportunities

In government the Progressive Democrats will:

• Refocus the work of the International Fund for Ireland, whose Secretariat is jointly provided by both Governments, to target reconciliation activities in the most deprived and marginalised communities
in Northern Ireland and the border counties.

• Work to develop an all-Ireland energy market.
• Continue working with the Northern Ireland authorities to jointly promote Ireland as a tourism

• Work closely with the Northern Ireland authorities to keep Irish agriculture disease-free.
• Broaden out the agreement for Donegal people requiring cancer treatment to get it in Belfast

to include more medical services and more people living along the border. • Promote personnel exchanges between the Garda Siochána and PSNI.

Still, this overview by the party itself doesn’t really place the PDs in quite so central a role as Collins suggests – something one might have expected them to do so, if only to say, the GFA/BA was the culmination of a significant part of their political project – and notably it is a single page in a 68 page document.  

A further oddity on foot of those 68 pages. The party clearly had the sense it had more to say, the problem was that the electorate weren’t listening. And FF and FG had between them, and more FF one might hazard, mopped up PD inclined support. So once more Collins thesis seems somewhat divergent of the reality. 


1. Gearóid Clár - July 27, 2021

Great work. The Wayback Machine is a fantastic tool to help prevent the rewriting of contemporary history. The likes of Collins have to reckon with people havng fact-checking tools available to hand like never before.

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - July 27, 2021

Cheers, it’s really the Wayback Machine that did the heavy lifting. Just I vaguely remember the launch of the PDs and the overwhelming impression I have is that it was socially liberal, to a degree, and that it was economically trending Thatcherite. I cannot see how Collins could believe that the North was the key issue in the party. In fact if you read the ‘Stand by the Republic’ speech what is most fascinating is how anti-partitionist O’Malley was in some ways. Quite mainstream FF at that point. In fairness his wife was from Tyrone IIRC so however much he disliked the Provos he must have had some grasp on the situation on the ground.

And Collin’s written a book on them.


2. Wes Ferry - July 27, 2021

Stephen Collins presents history as he wishes it had been, not necessarily as it actually was.

Liked by 2 people

WorldbyStorm - July 27, 2021



3. roddy - July 27, 2021

Some of the weasel words on Irish unity were an attempt to woo the likes of McCreevy.


4. irishelectionliterature - July 27, 2021

Certainly around their foundation, there would have been plenty of sneaking Regarders in FF. Indeed it was Haugheys opposition to The Anglo Irish Agreement that caused O’Malleys initial departure from FF.
Haughey was wrapping himself in the Green flag trying to appear Republican.
They came across as the most vehemently anti IRA party* and O’Malley was seen by many as the most anti Provo TD in the Country (Even more so than FG).
Of course once the Peace process started and we had the Good Friday agreement , they were hardly going to put how anti IRA they were during the Troubles up on their website.

Liked by 2 people

WorldbyStorm - July 28, 2021

Without question there was a strong anti-Republican and particularly anti-IRA angle amongst some of them, McDowell is a perfect example. And without question there was a sense of them as being a post-Civil War Party, sort of a counter-weight to the WP in the sense that both parties sought to project themselves as post-or anti-nationalist.

I think our takes are a matter of emphasis, that the self-identification of the PDs was one which placed its economic and social liberalism well ahead of say the North. Ferriter, Terence Brown and a range of sources point to economic and social liberalism and indeed – perhaps key, the rupture with Haughey as being their motivating forces with all else coming quite some ay behind those. So it’s not that they weren’t anti-IRA, they most certainly were as you say, but that was almost a second order issue (I’d still wonder though if FG was overall more vocally anti-IRA during that period and after). And O’Malley’s personal history of his wife’s family pub being burned down by the Provos in the 70s (IIRC) would have obviously fed into that.

I conducted interviews with a range of PD members including former press officer and strategist Stephen O’Byrnes in the period 1996-1997 as part of broader research about political identity – this being pre-GFA and pre them being in government and again the clear sense was of their economic liberalism being the key element of their identity. But he says himself in Hiding Behind A Face about FG, published in 1987 that ‘the policy message of the PDs was classic FG. O’Malley said they stood for fundamental tax reform, support for private enterprise Dana clear distinction between church and state. He called for public spending cuts and an attack on the current budget deficit’.

There’s an interesting question as to whether McDowell’s somewhat later musings over the nature of the Republic etc were in a sense a wish to recalibrate or reposition the party given they had achieved much of what they wanted and had in a sense converted FF to that. But that’s a different discussion!


Fergal - July 28, 2021

O’Malley, John Bruton and the l’âtre De Rossa were three peas in a pod politically…. including economically …
Only difference I can see is Bruton had a clerical side to him


Fergal - July 28, 2021

The ‘later’ De Rossa


roddy - July 28, 2021

If O’Malley’s wife’s family owned pub was bombed ,it was in all probability not down to the O’Malley connection.Whole streets in major towns were targeted to cause massive economic damage to the Northern state and the faux sense of “normality” fostered by the Brits.Few republicans would even have known O’Malley’s wife was from Omagh but it suited O’Malley to portrait himself as some sort of “victim”.He pedalled horseshit for instance about sleeping with a revolver under his pillow.Now that he’s buried can I say he was a self centred,arrogant ,right wing whinging git who revelled in talking down his nose to people.


WorldbyStorm - July 28, 2021

And yet, this from Magill January 1986 is interesting. He was asked did he think the North was a failed entity to which he replied ‘I do, yes. I’m afraid it is. It’s an artificial entity’. Asked about the hunger strikers he answered ‘I think their demands by and large were not unreasonable’ and asked about disbanding the UDR he said ‘as it is presently constituted, I’m inclined to think I would yes.’


WorldbyStorm - July 28, 2021

BTW politically I’d have no time for the man whatsoever, but I think it’s useful to keep in mind people are/were more complex than the pictures painted of them may suggest. And of course one could believe all that he states in Magill and still be anti-PIRA or armed struggle, many were. The other side is that it seems implausible he was attempting in the Magill article to curry favour with republicans or nationalists because he’d have been well aware he had no credibility with them so one could make a case that these were, despite his utter hostility to PIRA, beliefs he held. And again they would have been broadly in the mainstream of Irish thinking at the time I’d suggest.


EWI - July 29, 2021

And again they would have been broadly in the mainstream of Irish thinking at the time I’d suggest.

I think you’ve answered your first question with this. It would have been electorally damaging for O’Malley not to admit at that moment that the Northern Ireland experiment had failed, that the UDR was clearly loyalism in uniform etc. The words and actions of the Peedees since suggest that suspicions of them were correct.


WorldbyStorm - July 29, 2021

Yesish. Did you read his original Stand By the Republic speech? It’s astounding stuff at this remove – “If the Bill is defeated there are two elements on this island who will rejoice to high heaven. They are the Unionists in Northern Ireland and the extremist Roman Catholics in the Republic. They are a curious alliance, but they are bound together by the vested interest each of them has in the perpetuation of partition. Neither wishes to know the other. Their wish is to keep this island divided. Most of us here realise that the imposition of partition on this island was a grevious wrong, but its deliberate continuation is equally a grevious wrong.”

“Most of us in the House fervently want to see a 32-county republic on this island. I am not as optimistic as I used to be about that — I think the day is further away than it might otherwise be because of the events of the last ten or 15 years. I am certain of one thing in relation to partition: we will never see a 32-county republic on this island until first of all we have here a 26-county republic in the part we have jurisdiction over today which is really a republic, practising real republican traditions. Otherwise, we can forget about the possibility of ever succeeding in persuading our fellow Irishmen in the North to join us.”

The point was made to me last night that it says so much that in 1985 such a mainstream politician could talk openly about his aspiration for a UI while today his fans in the media say you can’t talk about one now! They should have his own words thrown back in his face.

Interesting two a Seven Ages programme from 2000 where he’s interviewed talking about the CRA in very positive terms and about how the British government Stormont effectively created the IRA.

I’m not arguing that he was some sort of particularly advanced nationalist, but that he was pretty mainstream nationalist and though vehemently anti-IRA probably never really abandoned that – McDowell coming from FG was very different. That’s why I find Stephen Collins thesis so problematic. If one were to think of leading politicians who were in the CCOB mould O’Malley is not one of them. McDowell, to a degree in latter years, Bruton (John) without question and so on. And also Collins idea that the PDs were effectively of that ilk when formed doesn’t convince me much either. I don’t disagree that as McDowell came closer to power that was a factor but I also think of how the PDs were part and parcel of an FF coalition that revelled in the cross border elements, not least the NIMC. And that leads tot he thought that I cannot recall one member of the PDs casting doubt on the GFA/BA like Harris and the rest did. I’m sure some of them must, but they do seem to have had a different view to that Harris clique. Again, McDowell was very provocative later in government with respect to SF and the IRA, but that seems to me to be a different dynamic.


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