Fine Gael has ordered an opinion poll in Dún Laoghaire to quantify the impact of the Maria Bailey saga on its vote in the make-or-break constituency.
Amid growing anger from its own councillors and TDs, party bosses have been told to “put the issue to bed” or risk severely damaging the party’s election chances next year.
The party currently holds three seats there — Ms Bailey, Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor and ex-Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett — and faces losing at least two of those at the forthcoming election.
Senior party sources have admitted the party fears the Swing-gate controversy will decimate its support in the key battleground and some are calling for Ms Bailey to stand down for the good of the party.
With Mr Barrett retiring, the party is resigned to losing one seat, but the Bailey controversy could really hurt its chances of retaining power nationally.
“Dun Laoghaire is one constituency we cannot afford to lose two seats, it simply cannot happen. That simply is the reality,” said one senior party source.
“The impact of this row has not gone away even though she has been demoted but we are still getting it in the neck from the public. We know this will do us damage if it is not put to bed,” said the source.
So far, the party has selected Ms Bailey, Ms Mitchell O’Connor and local councillor Barry M Ward to stand, but Fine Gael strategists are considering adding another councillor to the ticket. The party may add Killiney-based councillor and former legal advisrr to Enda Kenny, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill.
It had been suggested that another councillor and former special advisor to Heather Humphreys, Lorraine Hall, might also be included.
The personal injuries case taken by Ms Bailey against the Dean Hotel in Dublin was cited by many councillors and TDs for the party’s poor showing in the local and European elections.
Following an inquiry carried out by a barrister for the party, the findings of which were not published, she was stripped of her position as chairwoman of the Oireachtas housing committee - a post worth €9,500 a year - by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.Ms Bailey recently said she regretted the impact her case had on the party in the run-up to the elections last May.
Meanwhile, the party has added Lorraine O’Neill to its General Election ticket in Cork North Central.
The party has also announced its Directors of Election for the upcoming by-elections, expected to take place in November.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan will be in charge of Verona Murphy’s campaign in Wexford; Communications Minister Richard Bruton will manage James Reilly’s campaign in Fingal; Agriculture Minister Michael Creed will manage the Cork North-Central race and Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy will manage the Dublin Mid-West campaign.