The Progressive Democrats are to wind up after 23 years in existence, it was announced today.
Hundreds of Progressive Democrats members met to discuss the future of the beleaguered party, which has been teetering on the verge of collapse since suffering a crushing defeat at last year’s general election.
The party was founded in 1985 by Dessie O'Malley but was reduced to just two TDs following last year's general election.
At a special conference in Mullingar today, delegates voted by 201 to 161 against a motion to keep the party going.
A party spokesman confirmed the decision but suggested it could be several months before the PDs finally disbanded.
“The baton will now pass to the national executive and it could be weeks and possibly even months before it is wound up,” he said. “Party leader Ciaran Cannon said it could be January or February before this happens.”
A small majority voted against a motion to continue.
The main motion calling for the party to be wound down was passed after a show of hands.
Grassroots Progressive Democrats members opposed to the winding up were unsuccessful in convincing delegates to keep the party alive.
They had unveiled a survival strategy which set out the need for a leadership group of three or four members to head-up the party while a permanent leader can be selected.
However party founder Des O’Malley, former leader Mary Harney and current leader Ciaran Cannon made arguments in favour of ending the party.
Ms Harney said she believed the disbandment of the party was the right decision despite her own personal sadness.
“I said to the delegates that this was the saddest political day for me,” she said. “Twenty-three years ago this very day, I was in Des O’Malley’s house planning the formation of a new party. It was a time of great hope and excitement and enthusiasm.
“But today I felt compelled to speak in favour of the wind down of the Progressive Democrats.”
But she refused to be drawn on her position in the Cabinet when the PDs have been made defunct.
“I’m not going to speak for the Taoiseach on this, the Taoiseach is more than capable of speaking for himself,” she said
“I’m simply making the point that when the Progressive Democrats ceases to exist as a political party, then the Progressive Democrats are no longer a party to the current Government. The personalities that form the government are at the discretion of the Taoiseach of the day.”
In a letter to the delegates, Des O’Malley said realism and common sense demanded members face facts and wind up the party.
Mr O'Malley's daughter, Senator Fiona O’Malley said her father’s letter had influenced delegates.
“I’m sure a lot of people were persuaded by his sentiment, no more than Mary Harney, that would’ve been there at the beginning,” she said. “It is hard to have to do it.”
Galway TD Noel Grealish said he would continue as a member of the PDs until its formal ending despite weeks of speculation that he will move to Fianna Fáil.
“I will be part of the process until the final curtain is brought down,” he said “I was there at the beginning and I’m going to be there at the end.”
After the defeats at last year’s general election - the party lost six of its eight seats including the leader’s, deputy leader’s and president’s - the future for the most successful small party in Irish history looked increasingly in doubt.
Speculation is mounting that Ms Harney will sit as an independent in the Dáil.
Earlier this week, she made it clear she believed there was little point in continuing the party.
Former general secretary John Higgins said it had been a difficult decision for all members.
“There was a very strong debate in there and there was a lot of history gone through of the party which was fairly emotional,” he said.
“The argument was where the strong leadership was going to come from and unfortunately that wasn’t apparent in the hall and I think that’s why the motion was carried.”
Ms Harney, chief for 13 years, stood down as the head in Autumn 2006 claiming it was time for the party to elect a new leader.
She stayed on as Health Minister, a portfolio she initially requested two years earlier, but her time in office has been characterised by cancer scandals and horror stories of patients dying on trolleys.
In 2006, the Irish Nurses’ Organisation (INO) unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in her, accusing her of failing patients and staff and promoting private care.
Late last year she survived a Labour Party vote of no confidence over her handling of a shocking breast cancer misdiagnosis crisis involving hundreds of women.