PDs' future in question as Parlon leaves politics

The decision by the president of the Progressive Democrats, Tom Parlon, to leave politics to become director general of the Construction…

The decision by the president of the Progressive Democrats, Tom Parlon, to leave politics to become director general of the Construction Industry Federation has raised questions about the party's future.

It follows a disastrous general election in which the party lost six of its eight seats, including that of party leader Michael McDowell and Liz O'Donnell.

Mr Parlon's decision to follow Mr McDowell and Ms O'Donnell out of public life has left the party facing even greater problems, as he had been widely tipped for a Seanad seat as a step towards taking over the leadership.

The party has set up a commission to examine the rules for leadership elections which will report in the autumn. Minister for Health Mary Harney is acting leader.


Senator Tom Morrissey is the only declared candidate although Colm O'Gorman, who ran for the party in Wexford, has hinted he may stand. The party's sole backbench TD, Noel Grealish, has not declared his intentions.

Mr Parlon said yesterday that he felt very bad about walking away from the party because he would have liked to help to rebuild it after its poor election performance. He said losing his seat had left him with a difficult decision.

"I got a right kick in the backside when the electorate made their decision," he told RTÉ radio.

"I think my head has ruled my heart. I feel very bad about myself walking away because I would in lots of ways have liked to help out in terms of its resurrection again," he added.

The former president of the Irish Farmers Association was a high-profile recruit to the PDs five years ago and after his election in Laois-Offaly he was appointed a minister of state with responsibility for the Office of Public Works.

In that position he played a key role in the government's decentralisation policy both in acquiring and disposing of land and buildings for the State in an effort to implement the controversial programme.

Mr Parlon told Mary Harney about his decision last Friday, the day after her mother's funeral. Last night she paid tribute to him, saying that he had been a wonderful colleague and remained a good friend.

"As a minister he has many achievements to his credit including making significant advances in the programme of decentralisation," Ms Harney said.

"[ He] carried out a transformation of State assets, realising hundreds of millions of euro from properties that were not required and investing widely in new State properties such as much-needed Garda stations. Tom Parlon also developed the Office of Public Works into the lead agency dealing in the prevention of flood damage nationwide. His departure represents a sad loss to the party but we wish him every success in his new role."

There was an immediate political controversy over his new role. Labour Party TD Liz McManus said it would give rise to a serious potential conflict of interest as he was until very recently the minister in charge a multibillion-euro building programme on behalf of the government.

"The Office of Public Works is responsible for awarding contracts for virtually all major building work undertaken by the State, including schools, Garda stations and new offices for the Government's decentralisation programme. This year it will have a budget of more than €630 million and the companies that Mr Parlon will now be representing as director general of the CIF will be queuing up to get their share of the lucrative business.

"Surely there is a potential conflict of interest here for Mr Parlon who will be very much aware of the OPW's overall plans for the future and their approach to the awarding of contracts," said Ms McManus.

Mr Parlon rejected the notion that there was any conflict of interest involved in his new role, insisting that he had no ethical questions to answer. He added that he was not surprised by the Labour Party comments.