The posters would become famous in political circles because they carried a slogan which was widely credited with being instrumental in the PDs’ subsequent success on polling day.
“One-party Government?” the poster asked. “No thanks!”
The message could not have been any clearer. McDowell was telling the electorate that Fianna Fáil could not be trusted to govern on its own. The PDs would act as watchdog, moral guardian, protector of standards in high office.
If we are to believe common consensus in Leinster House, this was the single most important message of the party’s campaign. Evidently, the electorate believed it, because the PDs doubled their tally of Dáil seats from four to eight.
But now, the PDs say this is not what they meant at all. Fiona O’Malley, daughter of party founder Des, was first to rubbish suggestions that the PDs functioned as “watchdog” to FF.
On Monday night, junior minister Tim O’Malley officially endorsed that view in a speech assailing Fine Gael and Labour over their ethical standards. The speech was meant to counteract claims in the wake of the controversy surrounding Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that the PDs had failed to live up to their promise of holding FF accountable.
“As my colleague Deputy Fiona O’Malley pointed out, the Progressive Democrats have never described themselves as watchdogs over the standards of other political parties,” he said.
So what was that poster campaign about, then? In O’Malley’s words: “We do believe, as does the Irish electorate, that coalition Government serves the country better in terms of accountability and transparency ... we sought a mandate to prevent a reversion to single-party Government and we intend to stand by that mandate.”
So do the PDs believe that the electorate stupidly misunderstood the posters? That voters missed the point entirely? Or is it something different — that the PDs realise acting as watchdog to FF is a thankless task?
As then FG leader Michael Noonan remarked prior to the 2002 election when asked about the PDs’ potential effectiveness as FF watchdog: “If Cuchulainn’s dog was there guarding the gates, making sure Fianna Fáil did not get up to mischief, they would still get up to mischief.”