Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is facing an exodus from the Dáil as two of his top TDs declared their desire to contest the upcoming European elections.
This is despite Mr Martin making it known he wants his TDs not to stand because of the potential instability they could cause by forcing by-elections were they to depart for Brussels.
Yesterday Cork North-Central TD and former junior enterprise minister Billy Kelleher confirmed his interest in standing for Europe.
Mr Kelleher told the Irish Examiner that Europe is likely to be very important and, given he is 25 years in Leinster House, a fresh challenge is appealing.
“I love being a TD but we as a party must look at Europe with fresh enthusiasm and I would be interested in playing a part,” he said.
Mr Kelleher is known to be close to Mr Martin, having backed his campaign to be leader in 2011, but is frustrated in opposition. He is also fearful that should Fianna Fáil make it into Government, he may miss out on the Cabinet given Mr Martin and finance spokesman Michael McGrath are also from Cork City.
Emphasising the potential of a move to Europe, Mr Kelleher said: “Brussels and the European Parliament is going to play a critical role for Ireland’s future in the years ahead, and I think Ireland’s going to play a critical role as well in Europe, so from that perspective I certainly would like to be central to that.
In an interview last year, Mr Martin made it clear he wants his TDs to see out the rest of the term and not stand for Europe.
“We want our strong players in Dáil Éireann. I think we will be able to identify candidates who are not members of Dáil Éireann for the European elections,” Mr Martin previously told the Irish Examiner.
Since a falling out with Mr Martin, the seat held by Mr Crowley has become a target for the party, with Gorey councillor Malcolm Byrne seeking a nomination in the Ireland South constituency.
Meanwhile, former agriculture minister and Cavan Fianna Fáil TD Brendan Smith also declared his intention to stand for election.
Mr Smith said he has been approached by many people in recent days and weeks to consider running.
“Coming from a border county and as someone who is keenly aware of the issues of our province which is partly occupied by the British, representing Ireland on the European stage would be a great challenge, but one I am interested in,” he said.
Mr Smith called on his party to stand just one candidate, saying Fianna Fail “made a mistake” last time around by running two.
“We are in the running for one seat, so I think it would be a mistake to run two, as happened last time,” he said.
A Fianna Fáil spokesperson said: “The party’s strategy for the European Parliament elections will be decided by the National Constituencies Committee. A number of candidates have already declared an interest in various constituencies.
“The party leader will obviously not be expressing preferences for any one candidate over another in any of the very competitive selection conventions that will take place over the coming weeks.”