Zeal of days gone by yields to a sense of contentment


Mood of the delegates: Accustomed to power, if not electoral success, the PDs met in Galway at the weekend to celebrate their performance in the general election and plan the battle next year for local authority and European Parliament seats.

The mood was good. In leaner times, the party had difficulty filling its conference halls. Many had to stand during the busier debates on Saturday, for the PDs are no longer engaged in a struggle for mere survival.

There were quiet mutterings about the Government's decision to label budgetary "cutbacks" as "adjustments", but if delegates were displeased with the party leadership, they did not publicise it. As the Tánaiste Ms Harney said, rumours of her demise were exaggerated. Delegates said there was no appetite for a leadership battle.

Cork delegate, Mr Martin Burke, remembered attending the party's second meeting at the Metropole Hotel in the city in January 1986. He was on crutches then, due to a leg injury, and had parted from Fianna Fáil. "When I joined the PDs it was like losing my religion," he said.

Originally from Tubbercurry in Co Sligo, Mr Burke remembered former colleagues in Fianna Fáil "taking a cut" at him over his conversion. Mr Burke remembered when the "only" political choice was Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

Yet where once the PDs were the newest political movement on the scene, the Greens and Sinn Féin are now very much part of the electoral calculation. There were harsh words for the Opposition - and little enough of the anti-Fianna Fáil fighting talk that helped swing votes last year. Single-party Government - no thanks. Coalition - no trouble. There were many other former Fianna Fáilers in attendance. Yet the calm of the contented was more in evidence than the zeal of the converted. The PDs may have broken new ground with their talk of fiscal rectitude and economic liberalism, but that old radicalism is conventional thinking these days.

The weather was overcast, but many delegates were in expansive mood. Mr P.J. Long from Tipperary South came on a bus with about 25 other party supporters. "It was the first time we ever got into double figures," he said. The party would run candidates in all constituencies in the local elections, he said. There was a time when the PDs had to approach candidates. "Now they're coming to us."

The Minister of State for Finance, Mr Tom Parlon, made much of the party's interest in the rural vote. Not to be outdone, the Minister for Justice, Mr McDowell, came to the conference with a vision of sterling achievement unmatched in the realm of the justice, law and Garda reform. He was speaking in the future tense.