I was questioned recently about my virulent hatred of Fianna Fàil, while trumpeting, with pride, my past membership and support of the Progressive Democrats. Fianna Fàil were not alone in Government these last 13 years. The PDs were right there with them, part and parcel of those successive administrations, which destroyed our Country. The pride however, remains?
I know I am unquestionably a hypocrite and that I’m inconsistent, but I retain my pride for two reasons. The first reason is that the PDs, or we the PDs, paid the ultimate price for our negligence. We no longer exist and our place in history will be forever tarnished for having had a hand in this economic tsunami.
There is something quite bracing in receiving one’s righteous punishment. We erred, erred dreadfully and we were destroyed. Justice was done and even if one is on the receiving end of that justice, its very rarity makes it well worth the experience. It also helps with the guilt of course, well it does for those who accept that guilt is an appropriate response to the mistakes of the past.
The second reason for me still having pride, in being a PD, will take a little longer to explain. It has to do with their place in my history.
I still remember that evening, in 1985, when the formation of the Progressive Democrats made it onto the news. I was 11 at the time, but even at that age and coming from an apolitical family, I was instantly a supporter.
Back then there were two themes which dominated our reality; the recession and Haughey. Coming from a working class family, I understood even then, what a recession meant. The shortage of money, the parcels from America and the less than salubrious accommodation were my family’s experience of that time. It was not beyond the wit of a child to know that we were at or near, the bottom of the pile. (it was also a time of mass emigration, a 60% tax rate, a crippling National Debt, a rampant Black Economy and the Church still had us in its death grip)
And even a child was aware of Charles J. Haughey. Even a child had to take sides in the great narrative of that time. It was either Saint Haughey or Evil Haughey. There was no middle ground and I definitely saw him as evil. At 11 that perception, could not have been altogether of my own creation. Family, friends and media, must have played their part in making me see Haughey as the villain of the piece. Whatever the Genesis of my opinions were, Haughey was the enemy.
I could not see (and still can’t to be honest) any goodness in him and thus I could not feel hope for the future. He did bestride the world like a colossus to my young eyes. He was the leader, he was a strong leader, and if he continued as such, we were doomed. (a big reason why I still mistrust the Irish desire to have a strong man to lead them) Then came Des O’Malley and even more than Garrett The Good, he represented the rising of the people against the scary Overlord. That he came from within Haughey’s own ranks, made him even more impressive.
Yes, I’m being melodramatic, but I am speaking on behalf of a child, a child who became a Progressive Democrat in his heart, at just 11 years of age.
That was then though, I could remain idealistically, even naively, loyal to the PDs, but now I must reexamine my Party and its actions. With so much time having passed, one can now bring twenty-twenty vision to bare on where the PDs went wrong.
For the longest time I blamed everything on Michael McDowell. Just because he was such a poor politician. I still consider him a cut above many TDs for both his intellect and his integrity, but a politician he is not. Two decisions I thought were the killers of our Party. The first was his reaction to a Labour Party Bill on Same Sex Partnerships. McDowell killed it, as he knew it would prove unconstitutional. Making it easy for the left-wing media to paint him as a fascist. He was correct of course and saved the State some millions but the smarter thing to do would have been to back the Bill and let the dice roll.
The second big mistake he made was not knifing Bertie Ahern at the earliest possible opportunity, I really wish he had knifed Berie. Though it would have given our Party an undeserved boost. With the benefit of hindsight however I no longer blame Mr McDowell for a thing. The rot set in, I believe, the very moment that the PDs entered Government in 1989, supporting Haughey as Taoiseach.
I say this as someone who knocked on doors in support of the 1997 coalition. My distaste for FF was still there but I also thought we were a party with a future. I didn’t at the time question what O’Malley had done and I didn’t question what Mary Harney was doing in 1997. It’s is only in the last year that I have concluded that O’Malley (one of the very few people I actually admire) destroyed his own creation by going into Government with his bet noir, Haughey.
In the short four years from its inception in 1985 to the election in 1989, the entire play book of the Progressive Democrats had already become National Policy. Taxes were being lowered and the State rolled back. The Tallaght Strategy formalised this ideological shift, Fianna Fàil and Fine Gael put aside their differences on the economy and began to turn it around, leading to the boom.
The liberal agenda, championed by the PDs also finally began to gain traction. Try to remember that this was a time before even Marital Rape was a crime and that Des O’Malley lost the Fianna Fail whip because he refused to vote against a plan to make contraception easier to access.
I have to wonder what if O’Malley had demanded Haughey’s head in 1989? How different would our recent history have been? Would FF have had to wait all the way to Brian Cowen for a leader untouched by personal corruption? Would our politics have been so reduced? Would we be less cynical about our leaders during this crisis? FF could of course have called the PDs‘ bluff, which may have resulted in our obliteration, but what a way to go.
We are a conservative people and so for their time, the Progressive Democrats were as radical as they come. And their radicalism also offered many people what they wanted most, but could not find in the Ireland of that time, hope!
History may not be kind to the Progressive Democrats, but there are a few of us who will always remember that they did eventually see off Haughey and preside over the destruction of his name, they played a vital role in ending the previous recession and they prevented FF ever again ruling alone.
We were dealt with harshly, but fairly, by the electorate. I just hope the electorate do to Fianna Fàil what they did to us and what we should have spent our entire existence trying to do to Fianna Fàil.