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Whose needs would a Progressive Democrats 2.0 serve?

In much of the commentary following the recent referendums, the phrase ‘enough is enough’ was often heard – the implication being that people had made enough sacrifices by voting for compassion and understanding, but that’s all over now

The growing demand for a proper right-wing party or “return to traditional values”, like whiplash, is hard to pin down. “Enough is enough” won’t crack it.

Some things we know: some proponents have a need to assert their righteously fair and balanced credentials and show how thoroughly they’ve ingested the messages of the referendums. In short, they need to demonstrate unflinchingly how unwoke they are.

Others, like de Valera, whose 1937-era words are bafflingly deemed precisely on point for 2024, only have to examine their own hearts to know what the people need and listen, someone has to put a stop to the gallop of the woke mob. Twelve years of it – if you date it roughly from the death of Savita Halappanavar – is plenty.

Yet to many of us, 12 years is a blink compared to the aeons it took to get abortion rights and same-sex marriage to the polling booths. Think of all the preceding decades dominated by depressing battles for the right to basic contraception, the failed 1986 divorce referendum riddled with the right’s crude distortions, the infamous Eighth Amendment and the 1992 X case when a 14-year-old rape victim was refused the right to “travel”. In fact, Emily O’Reilly’s 1992 book, Masterminds of the Right, would be a useful memory aid right now.


Only 12 years ago, I interviewed tense and terrified couples in secret places about their heartbreaking journeys to Liverpool to terminate longed-for but unviable pregnancies diagnosed in Ireland. The silence and stigma surrounding them in their world of grief should haunt us all.

In much of the spiky, ad hominem commentary following the recent referendums, the phrase “enough is enough” often quivers on the margins with its implication that great numbers of people have made enough huge sacrifices by voting for compassion and understanding, but that’s all over now. Can that be true?

Is it possible that those pivotal votes are being conflated with the so-called “culture wars” – race, gender, language – that have ripped through other countries, but left Ireland relatively unscathed? We never enslaved other ethnic groups (within this country anyway), our gardaí don’t shoot black people and most of us will gladly grab the first available toilet, regardless of designation, without pausing to make a speech – but, since we live in a connected world there has been much discussion.

One suggestion (offered here in good faith, note) is that “enough is enough” reflects the inevitable, occasionally stupid, temporary imbalances that mark the transition from an oppressive theocracy to a secular, more compassionate and equal society.

The #MeToo movement which convulsed much of the world in the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s criminal exposure is a case in point. It was a dam burst with just cause, but it levelled all before it, eventually hitting a point where even renowned feminist Margaret Atwood was deemed a “bad feminist” for supporting a Canadian academic whose university had gone public with vile rape accusations before any formal inquiry.

The fact that the vast majority of women still do not or cannot pursue their assailants tells its own story, but the broader effect of #MeToo was to propel employers into action, put serial offenders on notice and make more women aware of their rights.

Where inequality, oppression or injustice exist, eruptions are inevitable and overbalancing will occur.

If the right-wing party of some people’s dreams had existed then what would it have done? Would it have reassured women? What would it want to dilute, reverse, create or promote now?

The right-wing party often mentioned in this context, the Progressive Democrats, was born in a decade when the country was “banjaxed” as Gay Byrne put it succinctly, unemployment was over 17 per cent, interest rates glanced off 20 per cent; hundreds of thousands were emigrating, the IRA was rampant and Desmond O’Malley had lost the Fianna Fáil whip for supporting the New Ireland Forum report. His expulsion in 1985 – for “conduct unbecoming”, incredibly – was triggered by his refusal to join Fianna Fáil’s opposition to the introduction of contraception, which tells us much about that era and the eruptions since.

The PDs were socially liberal (mostly), favoured privatisation and low taxes and the Boston economic model over Berlin, and offered a newish model to a despairing young urban business class. Yet, from 1985, the party dwindled from a high of 14 seats on its first outing to a disastrous two in 2007.

Seventeen years later, the economy is booming with near full employment. So how would a right-wing party distinguish itself now? Indications are they would begin by eviscerating all the damn lefties in thrall to the NGOs, the Hate Speech Bill, the Green Party in particular, plus big swathes of all the others – the so-called “woke gallery”, in short.

Early signs of success are already in evidence, as demonstrated by the spectre of the “single, unvetted, military-age male” bouncing from far-right trope to the heart of parliament just before Christmas, when the six-strong Rural Independent Group piled on with a Dáil motion about “unvetted single males”. The barely existent “culture wars” fade away like the barely imaginable battles over working women or contraception. Immigration becomes the new front. And the world burns.