THE future of the PDs is in serious doubt after party president Tom Parlon sensationally quit politics for a plum €250,000 job in the private sector.
His decision to turn his back on the PDs came as a major bodyblow to a party already reeling from the effects of several major defections.
The former Laois-Offaly TD was, until yesterday, a favourite to become the PDs' new leader.
Instead he became the third senior figure to leave since the election. He joins other defeated election candidates Michael McDowell and Liz O'Donnell.
Since the election, they have just two deputies: Mary Harney and Noel Grealish.
And senior figures may now turn to acting leader Ms Harney to continue.
Mr Parlon, former IFA leader-turned politician, opted out of the beleaguered party to become director general of business organisation, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF).
When perks are taken into account, he is likely to get almost double his former junior ministerial salary of €147,000.
And he is entitled to a pension of around €44,000-a-year as a former minister of state with five years' service.
Although former politicians normally do not receive the pension until aged 55, Mr Parlon could opt to take a 'discounted pension' until he reaches that age next year.
While he rejected suggestions that the end was in sight for the party, there was renewed speculation in political circles that many members might return to the Fianna Fail ranks.
He pointedly thanked Ms Harney for placing her trust in him but made no mention of Michael McDowell. Political observers saw this as a parting snub to the former leader for the manner in which he handled the Bertie Ahern cash controversy.
It is generally accepted that Mr McDowell's handling hurt the PDs and Mr Parlon's chances in Laois-Offaly where transfers from Fianna Fail voters virtually dried up.
Mr Parlon found himself embroiled in a final political row as he was accused of a "serious potential conflict of interest" by Labour.
Labour deputy leader Liz McManus said his appointment to CIF gave rise to such a conflict because he had, until recently, been in charge of the Office of Public Works which administers a multi-billion euro building programme.
But Mr Parlon said the criticism was "outrageous" and pointed out he would not be representing individual builders in his new job.
"The whole tendering process in the OPW was completely separate from the minister. Individual companies tender and the OPW is obliged to accept the lowest tender. I never had any involvement in this," he said.
Acting leader Mary Harney is on the record as saying she does not intend returning to the leadership for the long term. She only agreed to stay on temporarily after the disastrous election setbacks.
Mr Parlon was one of the big names the PDs recruited for the 2002 election but yesterday he spoke of the "kick in the backside" he had received in the general election.
"I had reached a crossroads in my life and thought about it long and hard before making my decision."
He will be 54 next month. "It has been a difficult decision to leave politics but my head has ruled my heart."
Head-hunted by the CIF to fill a key post in the private sector, he said he had not even known the job was available until approached about whether he would be interested.
He did not accept the PDs would be rudderless. "I wouldn't like to think it is going to be the end of the party.
"I feel very bad about walking away but there are young dynamic councillors there."
He admitted he had been targeted by other parties in the course of the general election, including the Fianna Fail party.