Progressive Democrats vote to wind up party

Sat, Nov 8, 2008, 00:00

A special meeting of the Progressive Democrats has voted within the last few minutes in favour of the party being wound up write Harry McGeeand Stephen Collins in Mullingar.

Members voted by a small majority to formally bring the organisation to an end. The first vote took place shortly after 4.30pm.

Scrutineers were called in and a full count took place, which confirmed an amendment to continue in existence had been defeated. It was defeated by a relatively narrow margin of 201 to 160. The meeting went on to vote on the main resolution – the winding down of the party. That was easily passed on a show of hands.

And in the wake of the historic decision, the Minister for Health and party founder Mary Harney confirmed that she would not be joining any party after the demise of the PDs, in effect becoming an independent TD. 

However, she gave a strong signal that she would like to continue in her current Cabinet position but qualified it by saying the deal that Fianna Fail made with the PDs would no longer be operable and the decision on her
future as a Minister would ultimately be one for Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

The meeting in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, which began shortly after noon was attended by an estimated 500 members of the party.

They heard a number of passionate speeches for and against the party voting itself out of existence.

The party leadership, including its two TDs and two senators, argued that the Progressive Democrats had no viable future.

Former party leader Mary Harney is said to have made an outstanding extemporary speech, using no notes or prompts, which won a standing ovation from members.

When asked about the import of her speech, Ms Harney said that when the PDs were formed 23 years ago, its first leader Des O'Malley was a year younger than Barack Obama is now. She said that the mood then, as it is now in the United States, was for change. The problem, she continued, was that there was nobody of that age, with that authority and with that degree of energy and commitment to carry the party on.

During the course of the week, Ms Harney has said this meeting of registered members would afford her the first opportunity of explaining that without a proper parliamentary base following last year's disastrous performance in the General Election, there was little point in continuing. She also argued that the PDs would have little opportunity to win seats in future elections to the Dáil.

A letter from party founder Des O'Malley was also read out to delegates. He also argued that it should be ended.
"The only realistic step it can take is to commence the winding up procedure," he stated.

Party leader Senator Ciaran Cannon also spoke in favour of the party being brought to an end.

In the wake of the historic decision, the meeting went on to approve amendments to the party's constitution that will allow it to disband. The party is expected to go out of existence in the New Year.

However, there were spirited speeches from several delegates in favour of keeping the party alive.

Serena Campbell, an election candidate in Meath East last year, said that there was still a niche for the party in Irish politics. She said that she was disappointed and angry that the party was splitting up. She said that no party now occupied a centre-right position in Irish politics. 

She also hinted that she - and other like-minded members of the party - might "go forth" and try to found a new party, moulded on the political philosoply of the PDs.

Tadhg Kearney from Limerick East also spoke in favour. He has put forward a six-step plan that would allow the party to continue.

Former senator Tom Morrissey also argued in favour of the PDS remaining as a force in Irish politics.

Speaking after the vote, the former general secretary John Higgins said that there were two arguments that were made. The first was on principles and the second was on who would lead the party if it decided to continue.

He said the absence of a possible strong leadership if the party was to remain in existence was what clinched the vote in the end.