Billy Kelleher suffers shock loss in bid to become MEP candidate

Long-standing Cork TD Billy Kelleher has lost out by just eight votes in his bid to be selected as Fianna Fáil's Ireland South candidate in the imminent European elections today.

However, party sources have suggested he could be added to the election ticket when senior officials meet next week due to the need to ensure a south west presence in the sprawling and competitive constituency.

At the Ireland South party selection convention in Clonmel, Tipperary on Saturday, Mr Kelleher lost out to Wexford councillor Malcolm Byrne by just eight votes in a major and widely unpredicted shock.

Mr Kelleher, who is the party's enterprise spokesperson, was rumoured to have been at odds with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and party headquarters officials over his decision to seek the MEP candidate selection, a claim publicly denied by all involved.

This was because any decision by a sitting TD to seek a European parliament seat would lessen Mr Martin's Dail hand by removing a safe seat and could further undermine the already flimsy confidence and supply pact with Fine Gael.

However, despite the stand-off, Mr Kelleher was still expected to win the selection convention in Clonmel, Tipperary, on Saturday afternoon - paving the way for what was predicted to be a likely safe run to Brussels on May 24.

Wexford councillor Malcolm Byrne will now contest the Ireland South MEP constituency for Fianna Fail, seeking to hold onto the party seat to be vacated by retiring politician Brian Crowley.

However, during his selection acceptance speech, Mr Byrne told party members he was open to a second candidate being added to the ticket.

Party sources have confirmed Fianna Fail's national selection group will meet next week to decide on the matter and noted the fact Ireland South is a sprawling constituency, with Mr Byrne's location in Wexford meaning a south west candidate may also be needed.

While rumours have spread on Saturday that Cork-based councillor Seamus McGrath could be added to the ticket, it is understood he will not be considered and has made it clear he does not wish to be.

In addition to Mr Kelleher, Mr Byrne faced competition from retiring MEP Brian Crowley's substitute, Waterford's Kieran Hartley; Offaly councillor Eddie Fitzpatrick; and Cork's Jason Fitzgerald.

Carlow-Kilkenny TD John McGuinness was also officially among the candidates after being nominated by a local branch, despite saying he did not intend to run.

Former Cork mayor Seamus McGrath - the brother of party finance spokesperson Michael McGrath - and senator Ned O'Sullivan had also pulled out in recent days.

Fianna Fail is likely to be under pressure to add a south west candidate to the ticket in order to prevent their traditional vote being split.

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