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Tuesday 23 July 2019

'One year to save PDs'

Senator Cannon with his 11-year-old son Evan won by 51pc to 49pc
Senator Cannon with his 11-year-old son Evan won by 51pc to 49pc

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

THE new leader of the Progressive Democrats, Senator Ciaran Cannon, has given himself just 12 months to save his party from extinction.

The little-known senator followed in the footsteps of political giants after he was elected the fourth leader of the PDs by the narrowest of margins.

After edging out Fiona O'Malley, Mr Cannon said the party will have to examine its position if it doesn't increase its number in the local elections.

The new leader also said he would like to get former leader Michael McDowell to return to the party fold. He said he did not envisage Mr McDowell running for office again, but would like the former Tanaiste to have an input in policy making.

Mr Cannon won the contest by just 51pc to 49pc.

The party, however, has refused to give an exact breakdown of the results in each category of voters. Cannon immediately set a target of increasing the number of PD councillors from the 28 elected at the last election to between 35 and 40. If that didn't happen, the party would have to take "serious stock" of its situation.

Mr Cannon said: "It will be time certainly for all of us -- our councillors, our parliamentary party and our members -- to take a collective decision based on the election result in 2009.

Honest

"I am confident we will be at a stage where we do see increased numbers, but equally so, I'll be frank and honest in saying to you, that if the numbers aren't increased, we'll have to take serious stock of what the future may hold for us."

The Progressive Democrats refused to reveal the exact result of the election in each electoral college as the vote was split between three groups -- TDs and Senators, councillors and national executive members, and ordinary members.

Party chairman Peter Wyer said he was happy with the turnout, despite only 40pc of the grassroots members casting their votes.

Senator Cannon denied Mr McDowell had damaged the PDs and he saw a role for him in the future on the policy formulation front.

"From speaking to Michael, he's given very strong indications that he will not be returning in any political capacity in the sense that he doesn't see himself contesting any elections in the future.

"But the wealth of experience and knowledge and talent that he has, certainly in the formation of policy, would be very, very valuable to us, and I would be asking him to contribute to us on that level," he said.

Media

The 42-year-old senator from Galway admitted he only came into politics five years ago and had no previous affiliation to any party.

He said he would be able to lead the party from the Seanad, despite the low media profile attached to not being a TD or Cabinet minister.

"It allows me the latitude and freedom certainly time-wise to do the kid of rebuilding grassroots work I need to do over the next number of months.

"I may not have the media profile in the Senate that one could achieve by making statements in Dail Eireann, while I value the importance of being able to have a sustained and high-level media profile, I'd far more value the interaction I'll have with the Irish people and our members and our councillors as we walk the streets of the towns and villages of Ireland," he added.

Describing the rebuilding of the party as "daunting", Mr Cannon said he is setting out on tour of the country next week to meet party members and the public at large.

After previously calling for a change to the party's name, the Senator now says this is not an issue.

Pointing to the need to develop new party policy, Senator Cannon said there was a need to look at all taxes.

He said there was still a need to reduce tax rates.

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