Pee Dee or not Pee Dee, that is the question
Deaglán de Bréadún
Bigger parties must wonder what they have to do to get the media attention that is lavished on the Progressive Democrats. Probably the reason is that the PDs were different: not a catch-all party that stood for anything and everything but a radical party of the right.
Not the far right like the BNP, I hasten to add, but distinctly right of centre with tough, uncompromising policies on the issue of taxation in particular. They said the things Fianna Fáil espoused in their heart of hearts but would not implement for fear of jeopardising their populist profile.
The PDs shook up the political consensus and when their low-tax policies became the conventional wisdom, it helped the economy to take off in a big way. Another example of PD influence was Mary Harney’ s deregulation of the taxi industry. Time was, you would be waiting for hours in the rain in Dublin on a Saturday night for a cab home but now you can hardly move, there are so many taxis touting for custom in the city.
The point about becoming a successful capitalist economy is that you have to loosen the fetters. That’s what the PDs did and nearly everyone is a PD now in that regard. It was very significant when Pat Rabbitte, as Labour leader, called for lower personal taxation prior to last year’s general election.
Not everyone will be happy about the PDs’ role. Some will feel that, in the process of becoming rich on the back of PD-type policies, we have lost a spiritual dimension to our society. On the other hand, net emigration came to a halt. Irish parents are no longer rearing their children for export, although that may start again if the downturn continues.
The current situation in the PDs is reminiscent of the final scenes in different movies about the Titanic (the recent Leo DiCaprio version and the earlier Night to Remember). Passengers are scrambling for the lifeboats and it’s every man for himself, more or less.
It looks like Noel Grealish has cooked up a deal with FF’s Noel Dempsey. The package is on offer to other elected representatives if they choose to accept it. Meanwhile Harney will probably not go back to FF but may be rewarded with the European Commissionership in due course. She has taken an awful lot of stick as Health Minister over the years (remember how Brian Cowen called that department “Angola” because there were so many landmines?) and FF has to be grateful for that. Indeed, if the bulk of the PDs join the Soldiers of Destiny, Cowen will be even more grateful.
One has to feel sorry for Ciarán Cannon. He has the most unenviable job in Irish politics. It was like being appointed captain of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. In today’s Irish Times I said he was supposed to be a leader but has now been cast in the role of liquidator (there’s a good theme-song for the party in its present state by Shirley Bassey).
Word is Fine Gael would be keen to have Cannon. Fiona O’Malley gets on well politically with Cowen and, if she jumps ship, would be expected to opt for FF. In retrospect, would Fiona have been a better choice as leader, or was it too late for anyone to save the situation? Probably the latter.
Whatever is going on between the PDs and another party or parties is clearly not being shared with the national executive and most of the local councillors. They are not the first party to make a major impact and then fade from view. Clann na Poblachta was the driving force in getting FF out of government in 1948 but then broke on the rocks of the Mother and Child Scheme. But C na P left a lasting impact and so, whether people like it or not, will the PDs.
Deaglán de Bréadún, Political Correspondent, The Irish Times