Progressive Democrats is founded on December 21, 1985 by Desmond O’Malley, Mary Harney, and politicians who had split from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The party is a member of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party (ELDR). Its youth wing is the Young Progressive Democrats.
The Progressive Democrats take liberal positions on divorce, contraception, and other social issues. The party also supports economic liberalisation, advocating measures such as lower taxation, fiscal conservatism, privatisation, and welfare reform. It enjoys an impressive début at the 1987 general election, winning 14 seats in Dáil Éireann and capturing almost 12 per cent of the popular vote to temporarily surpass the Labour Party as Ireland’s third-largest political party.
Although the Progressive Democrats never again win more than 10 seats in the Dáil, they form coalition governments with Fianna Fáil during the 26th Dáil (1989–92), the 28th Dáil (1997–2002), the 29th Dáil (2002–07) and the 30th Dáil (2007–09). These successive years as the government’s junior coalition partner gives the party an influence on Irish politics and economics disproportionate to its small size. In particular, the party has been credited with shaping the low-tax, pro-business environment that contributes to Ireland’s Celtic Tiger economic boom during the 1990s and 2000s, as well as blame for contributing to the subsequent Irish financial and economic crisis.
On November 8, 2008 the party begins the process of disbanding and is formally dissolved on November 20, 2009. The two Progressive Democrat politicians elected to the 30th Dáil, Mary Harney and Noel Grealish, continue to support the government as independent Teachta Dálas (TD), and Mary Harney also continues as Minister for Health and Children.