Game, set and match for party despite some calls to play on

SHORTLY after last year’s general election, a former high-ranking Progressive Democrat coldly assessed the party’s future and realised it had none.

Speaking of the possible candidates to succeed Michael McDowell, the veteran PD said: “There is no [new] Des O’Malley. There is no Mary Harney. Game, set and match. All over.”

That particular politician preferred to remain anonymous, wishing not to upset colleagues who wanted the party to continue.

The PDs’ obituary had been written on many occasions before. This time it was the party’s own admitting defeat.

Others refused to accept it, and so we had the painful sight of the PDs persevering for over a year, refusing to accept death even though the party was mortally wounded.

The May election had seen the PDs lose six of their eight Dáil seats, and among the casualties were the leadership triumvirate — McDowell, deputy leader Liz O’Donnell and party chairman Tom Parlon. All three promptly resigned from politics.

Only Harney and the relatively unknown Galway West TD Noel Grealish were left, and the former faced the task of resuming leadership until a decision on the party’s future was made.

But the process to appoint a new leader served only to prove just how bereft of talent and experience the party was.

Harney didn’t want it, and neither did Grealish. That left the party’s two senators — Fiona O’Malley, daughter of Des, and Ciaran Cannon, a virtual newcomer to national politics.

In the end, the party plumped for Cannon, but his leadership was beset with one problem after another.

For a start, he was not in cabinet, and Harney was. This meant Harney continued to be viewed as the senior figure in the party, even though Cannon was leader.

Secondly, he focused on party organisation rather than his own profile, with the result that, six months on, people were still asking: “Ciaran who?”

Thirdly, he failed to assert his leadership, being unable to keep his colleague Grealish in line. Grealish continually refused to rule out joining Fianna Fáil.

Matters finally came to a head in September.

Harney admitted the party would have to consider its position.

Grealish, O’Malley Cannon and Harney, held two crisis meetings in Co Kildare, on September 16.

First, the four met to discuss their own views, and agreed that the party was “no longer politically viable”. They then conveyed their view to the party’s national executive and councillors at a second meeting.

It was agreed that a special conference of the wider party membership would be held to decide the party’s future.

Which brings us to Mullingar this afternoon, where the members will get to have their say.

The leadership fears that the only members motivated to turn up today will be those who want the party to continue. Should this be the outcome of the vote, it will leave the leadership in a very difficult position indeed, and arguably serve no other purpose than to prolong the PDs’ misery.

Instead, the leadership will plead for members to allow the party bow out with whatever little dignity it has left.

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