Harney to stay on for now until PDs agree reforms

The Progressive Democrats have deferred a decision on changing the party rules so that someone who is not a TD can take over …

The Progressive Democrats have deferred a decision on changing the party rules so that someone who is not a TD can take over as leader. It was agreed that Mary Harney will continue to act in that role until September.

A meeting of the party's national executive in Dublin last night, which went on for more than two and a half hours, decided to establish a five-person group to look into the leadership issue.

The group, which will be chaired by outgoing Senator John Dardis, will report back to the national executive on all the issues surrounding the election of a new leader.

A PD spokesman said last night that as well as looking at who can be leader, the group will look at the method of nomination and the method of election.

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At present, only a TD can be elected leader but as Ms Harney and the other PD deputy, Noel Grealish, have said they are not interested in the job, a rule change is required.

There is also a problem about the nomination of candidates as currently they can be nominated only by a TD. This would restrict the nominations to just two people.

The third issue is the system of election. Under the current rules the party leader is chosen by an electoral college in which the parliamentary party have 40 per cent of the votes, the councillors and national executive have 30 per cent and the ordinary members have 30 per cent.

The party spokesman said that all of these issues would be examined by the five-person group under the direction of the party president, Tom Parlon, who is regarded as the frontrunner for the leadership position.

The spokesman also said that the 21-person executive had expressed unanimous backing for the decision to go into government with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.

Last week one of the party's trustees, Paul Mackay, opposed the idea of going back into government with Fianna Fáil and resigned his position as a trustee. Mr Mackay attended last night's meeting.

The former TD, Liz O'Donnell, who is the current deputy leader, confirmed yesterday that she will not be a candidate for the leadership of the party.

Meanwhile, the Green Party is also making plans for a leadership election, following the decision of Trevor Sargent to resign on the night the party agreed to go into coalition with Fianna Fail.

The Minister for the Environment John Gormley is the favourite to take over following the announcement by his Cabinet colleague, Eamon Ryan, that he would not be contesting the vacancy. The party deputy leader Mary White has also ruled herself out of contention.

Ms White, who was elected as a TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, has announced that she will be running again for the post of deputy leader, which automatically becomes vacant if there is a leadership contest.

Mr Gormley has still not formally announced his candidature but is widely expected to put his name forward. He has been a TD for the past 10 years and before that served as lord mayor of Dublin.

The closing date for nominations is Friday, July 6th. Candidates have to be nominated by at least 50 members of the party. Postal ballots will be sent out to all paid-up members of the party on July 9th if there is more than one candidate for the positions of leader or deputy leader.

The ballot papers will have to be returned by July 17th. Only paid-up members can vote, but any members who were paid up for 2006 but have not renewed their membership this year have until noon on July 6th to do so in order to be eligible to vote.