New PD leader Cannon pledges to rebuild party

Thu, Apr 17, 2008, 01:00

Senator Ciarán Cannon assumed the role of Progressive Democrat leader today, pledging to rebuild the party from grassroots level after its poor showing in the last general election.

Mr Cannon (42), who has been a member of the Oireachtas for less than a year, narrowly defeated his sole rival Senator Fiona O’Malley in the leadership election, garnering 51 per cent of the vote across the party’s three colleges.

Speaking at his first press conference as leader today, the Galway senator acknowledged he faced a “daunting” task in reversing the fortunes of the party, which lost six Dáil seats at the last election, including Ms O'Malley's. Newly elected PD leader Ciarán Cannon during his first press conference as leader in Dublin this morning. Photograph: PA
Newly elected PD leader Ciarán Cannon during his first press conference as leader in Dublin this morning. Photograph: PA

But he insisted that within the ranks of the party there were “people with the passion, the commitment, the knowledge and the talent to stage a comeback”.

Asked about his party's performance in the last election, Mr Cannon said he believed the PDs had been "unfairly pigeon-holed as an uncaring party" and had failed to properly set out its priorities to the electorate.

He said that, under his leadership, the PDs would once again be “the champion of all taxpayers who demand better value for their investment in the public service system”.

“Despite our small numbers, the Progressive Democrats have blazed a trail of reform and innovation for the last 20 years," he said. “We have added colour and vigour to what otherwise would have been stale consensus politics”.

Flanked by former leader Mary Harney, the party's other Dáil deputy Noel Grealish and Ms O’Malley, Mr Cannon pledged to build a strong and united party from the grassroots up and “to be a fresh, new canvas on which our members and our people can paint their ideas and vision for a better Ireland.”

The PD leadership post had been vacant since former minister for justice Michael McDowell lost his Dáil seat last year. Mr Cannon takes over from former party head Ms Harney, who had been acting leader since Mr McDowell's resignation.


Despite our small numbers, the Progressive Democrats have blazed a trail of reform and innovation for the last 20 years New PD leader Ciarán Cannon

Ms Harney today quipped that she was handing over the leadership baton for a second time. She paid tribute to Ms O’Malley, whom she said had come within a narrow margin of succeeding her as leader.

Ms Harney said the tightly contested election had been “an invigorating exercise” for the party, saying it was the first time the wider party membership had had a say in the election.

Asked if she had any advice for her replacement, Ms Harney said: “Being leader of a party you have to do a lot of thinking on your own. The party membership does not always take you in the right direction.

“I think leaders have to be prepared to stand back and reflect. I think that is the story of great leadership, that you have brought people with you rather than follow people somewhere.”

Only 40 per cent of the 3,900 party members eligible to vote cast their ballots in the vote but party chairman Peter Wyer said he was not disappointed by the turnout. “Not in the least. Because of all the parties in Dáil Éireann, I don’t think any of them had participation of over 1,000 members in electing a party leader.”

Both Mr Cannon and Ms O'Malley were appointed to the Seanad by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern following the General Election.

Today Mr Ahern congratulated Mr Cannon on his victory.

“It has been my privilege to work with the Progressive Democrats over eleven years delivering successive Programmes for Government," he said. “I look forward to working with Ciaran up until May 6th.”

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said Mr Cannon "will know better than anyone else the challenge he now faces to fill the shoes of the three very significant figures who preceded him as leader of the PDs, particularly as he will be leading the party from outside the Dáil".

"I don't share his political views, but on a personal basis I wish him well. I also want to offer my commiserations to my constituency colleague, Fiona O'Malley, who ran Ciaran Cannon so close. I hope that she will continue to make a contribution to public and political life through her membership of the Seanad," he said.

Three separate colleges decided the outcome of the leadership contest. The party’s four Oireachtas members had a voting weight of 40 per cent, while the party's councillors and members of the National Executive accounted for a further 30 per cent. The remaining 30 per cent of the vote was accounted for by the party members.

Returning officer Liam Twohig announced the result of Monday's vote early this morning. It had originally been planned to announce the result yesterday but it was postponed as a mark of respect for former president Dr Patrick Hillery whose State funeral took place yesterday.