Fianna Fáil will today launch a last-minute change of strategy by carving up Ireland South in a move expected to anger its sitting MEP, Brian Crowley, who is known for closely guarding his huge vote share.
Party headquarters will begin a local media advertising campaign in the eastern counties of the constituency appealing to Fianna Fáil voters to give first preferences to its struggling candidate, Kieran Hartley. The move is a last-ditch attempt to share the massive vote of Mr Crowley — who polls consistently over 30% — and redistribute it to Mr Hartley, who is barely in the running with 2% support.
The ads will appeal to Fianna Fáil core voters in counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, and Wicklow to return an MEP from the South East.
Party sources say if the message gets across to Fianna Fáil core supporters in these counties to give their number ones to Mr Hartley instead of Crowley, then the party might be in with a shout of securing two seats.
“It’s a long shot but, at least, it’s a shot,” said a senior source. “It’s 30% versus 2%. If it was 7% versus 15%, it would be different, but there has to be some even keel,” said another.
The party opted against splitting the constituency early in the campaign because they knew it would be strongly opposed by Mr Crowley who has resisted such a strategy in the past.
“The strategy was to leave it until the last minute and do everything we could then,” said a source. “There are times to put the party first and, if there was a willingness to share the vote in the first place, then we wouldn’t need to do this.”
Party strategists, it is believed, did not want to implement the strategy earlier because it would “draw the wrath” of Mr Crowley who strongly resisted a constituency carve-up in 2004 when headquarters ordered him to seek first preference votes in Cork only, leaving Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford to running mate Gerry Collins.
Mr Crowley was having none of it and publicly spoke out about the strategy: “People should vote for candidates in order of preference and that is the only type of democratic electioneering I will participate in, and the one that is for the long-term good of the Fianna Fáil party.”
While Collins lost his seat, Crowley went on to not only top the poll but to become Ireland’s highest ranking MEP.
Fine Gael’s strategy to split Ireland South between its three candidates is likely to prove effective with the party in strong contention for two out of the four seats.
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