Fine Gael has banned a second party candidate from taking part in the Irish Examiner European election debate in Cork amid fears that their involvement could damage sitting MEP Deirdre Clune’s re-election chances.
Kerry-based MEP Sean Kelly confirmed that he has been told not to attend the public meeting.
Last weekend, Andrew Doyle said he had been barred from taking part in the event.
Under Fine Gael election plans designed to carve out at least two seats in Ireland South, Mr Kelly has been asked to focus his campaign in Kerry, Limerick and Clare; Mr Doyle in south Leinster; and Ms Clune in Cork.
In addition, Mr Kelly and Ms Clune have been asked to share campaigning in Waterford and south Tipperary.
It was widely expected the breakdown would be lifted to allow all three candidates to participate in Thursday’s national debate in Cork.
However, speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Kelly confirmed he has also been ordered not to attend.
He said: “Because of the [constituency] divide, I’m not allowed to do any public events in Cork unless they’re cleared [by Fine Gael headquarters] in advance, which they haven’t been.
“I understand most public events will not be held in my area because I’m in Kerry and they will be held somewhere central, and that means I’m excluded from most of them, unfortunately.”
Asked specifically about the hustings debate on Thursday, he added: “Well, none of them have been cleared, and unless they’re cleared I can’t do them.”
Fine Gael’s Ireland South director of elections, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, confirmed last night: “Cork has been allocated to Cork woman Deirdre Clune.
"It’s her local area and Fine Gael is working a regional divide to intensify the canvass and maximise the vote.”
A senior Fine Gael source also confirmed the reasoning, saying that national director of elections and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty wrote to all candidates on Saturday re-emphasising the strict vote divide borders.
However, one MEP candidate claimed the only reason for the non-Cork ban is because of fears over Ms Clune’s seat, saying “it wouldn’t be happening if it was Clare FM or the Irish Times asking”.
A spokesperson for Ms Clune last night said: “This is a decision for the director of elections. I was allocated Cork, South Tipperary and Waterford for canvassing. I am precluded from canvassing in nine of the 12 counties.”
Ms Clune rejected RTE’s The Week In Politics claims that Mr Doyle’s Cork debate ban is to protect existing MEPs, saying: “It’s the director of elections who decides if people go or not.”
The latest Irish Times/Ipsos Ireland South opinion poll placed Mr Kelly on 18%, Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada on 14%, Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher on 13%, Ms Clune on 10%, Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne on 10%, Mr Doyle on 9%, and Independent TD Mick Wallace on 8%.