Wednesday 22 May 2019

PDs stare into abyss as Grealish heads to FF

Sam Smyth

THE Progressive Democrats are staring into political oblivion after their only backbench TD, Noel Grealish, told leader Ciaran Cannon and Health Minister Mary Harney of his intention to join Fianna Fail.

The Irish Independent has learned Mr Grealish took the decision because of his alarm over Mr Cannon's lacklustre performance as party leader -- a view shared by several other PD figures.

Six months after being elected as leader, Senator Cannon has embarrassingly failed to arrange an official meeting with Taoiseach Brian Cowen, despite heading one of Fianna Fail's coalition partners.

Mr Grealish has not made the date of his departure from the party public because of his respect for former leader Ms Harney and concerns for her position as a minister.

He had previously committed to stay until next year, but it is now generally expected he will be long gone by the time of the local and European elections next summer.

Mr Grealish will not attend a Fianna Fail think-in in Galway next week, although he will be joining their parliamentary party in the near future.

The departure of the Galway West TD, possibly along with a number of local supporters and councillors, will be a devastating blow for the PDs.

The party is already down to just two TDs and two senators, after suffering a stream of retirements and defections in the wake of its general election meltdown last year.

It is understood Mr Cannon faced a barrage of criticism over his lacklustre leadership at a meeting of the PD National Executive last night.

Several members wanted to know if he had achieved any of the goals he set for himself and which promises he had fulfilled since he became leader in April.

One senior PD said Mr Cannon has not yet officially met the Taoiseach as leader of the party, although the PDs are an integral part of the governing coalition.

"It does seem bizarre that Ciaran has not yet arranged a meeting with Brian Cowen six months after he was elected leader," said the senior PD.

Mr Grealish is expected to take the opportunity to explain exactly why he is leaving at a meeting of the four-person parliamentary party next week.

He had hoped to lay out his reasons for leaving at a meeting on Wednesday but the meeting was postponed when a close friend of his died in Galway.

Sources close to Mr Grealish said the Galway TD has been deeply disappointed with the PDs since their disastrous loss of seats in last year's general election.

"Noel saw the writing on the wall and everyone knows he is very close to Fianna Fail, but he would not go because of worries about Mary Harney's position as a Government minister," said the source.

A senior source in the PDs also confirmed that Mr Grealish is close to Ms Harney who was the leader when he joined the party.

"Noel has told the party in the past that he is very sensitive to Mary's position and that is why he has stayed around so long," said the source.

"Mr Grealish has told Ciaran Cannon that he is leaving and has been in regular contact with Mary Harney about the issue."

Mr Grealish also advised Mr Cannon not to seek the leadership, although he and other PDs councillors supported his candidacy.

"Noel explained why being leader of the PDs was a hiding to nothing, but Ciaran insisted on running and Grealish's Galway crowd were crucial to him winning," said a source close to Mr Grealish.

Although he made a commitment to stay in the PDs until the European and local government elections next year, it is understood that Mr Grealish no longer feels he can.

"Things have slipped badly since Ciaran was elected leader and I believe Noel wants to go as soon as he can be sure it will not damage Mary's position in government," said a source close to Mr Grealish.

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