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FG bid to 'save two seats' in Ireland South

Fine Gael is deeply divided after it was forced to “revise” its division of the Ireland South constituency in order to bolster MEP Deirdre Clune's flagging campaign, just 48 hours before polling.

Letters issued in parts of the vast constituency by Director of Elections Regina Doherty have called on voters in Limerick and Tipperary to give Ms Clune their number 1 votes in order to ensure Fine Gael keeps its two seats in the European Parliament.

Ms Doherty's letter called on voters in the city to vote for Ms Clune ahead of her party colleagues Sean Kelly, who is all but assured of a seat and junior agriculture minister Andrew Doyle, who is seen as a sweeper in Leinster.

But Mr Doyle and his camp are furious at the diktat, which they say was issued "without any consultation."

Pat Deering, TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, and Mr Doyle's campaign manager told the Irish Examiner that the team is "very disappointed" with the letter issued by Ms Doherty, which was done as part of a protectionist policy to benefit the two sitting MEPs.

"If they wanted to protect the two candidates, then why run three. This is very disappointing, we were not consulted and I tell you what, we will be going into Tipperary and Limerick tomorrow," he said.

Originally, Ms Clune had been given priority campaigning rights in Cork City and County, while Waterford and South Tipperary were to be shared with Mr Kelly.

However, with Mr Kelly looking likely to exceed the quota on the first count, Ms Doherty decided to hand Limerick over to Ms Clune.

"Recent polling has shown the party securing 30% of the vote...this puts us in a strong position to retain two seats. However, this is only possible if we can successfully share the vote. In order to achieve this, I have revised the initial division of the constituency and I am now asking Fine Gael members to vote Deirdre Clune number 1," Ms Doherty wrote in her letter, seen by the Irish Examiner.

Fine Gael is hoping that Mr Doyle does well enough to remain in the race long enough to transfer a big block of votes to help Ms Clune over the line, as happened in 2014 when now Health Minister Simon Harris played the sweeper role.

“She was elected off the back of Harris votes in 2014 but will she be helped this time around? It is not clear.”

Over the past 10 days, there has been a growing sense of concern within the party, that Ms Clune's seat is vulnerable, despite a large spend on posters in the Cork area and an aggressive vote management strategy by party bosses.

She has polled poorly in two polls, the latest one in the Sunday Business Post putting her in seventh place in the race for five seats.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil is very hopeful that it can take two of the five seats.

Sitting TD for Cork North-Central, Billy Kelleher is at the behest of his party leader concentrating his efforts in Cork City during the final days of the campaign but is expected to take a seat.

His running mate, Malcolm Byrne, has impressed during the campaign and is in contention of taking one of the last two seats.

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