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#IETownHall event: Kelleher accused of 'selling-out' pro-life support over 8th Amendment

Fianna Fáil TD and Ireland South MEP election candidate Billy Kelleher has been accused of "selling out" traditional pro-life party support over his decision to back the removal of the eighth amendment.

Mr Kelleher was targeted by Independent candidate Theresa Heaney, who said he is "no Brian Crowley", during a heated two hour debate among the vast majority of constituency competitors in Cork on Thursday night.

Speaking during the Irish Examiner's European election hustings at the Clayton Silversprings Hotel in Cork City, moderated by political editor Daniel McConnell and special correspondent Michael Clifford, candidates:

* labelled the €100m EU/Government Brexit farmers support package "a stroke"

* clashed over gay rights

* were urged to clarify divisive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil candidate turf wars

* walked out on stage after a heated confrontation

* and questioned the impact of existing MEPs

However, it was the attack on Mr Kelleher which poses the most risk on the remainder of the campaign, with long-standing internal Fianna Fáil concerns it could face a small but significant pro-life backlash in traditional areas of the sprawling constituency.

Asked about her own pro-life views during the debate, Ms Heaney explained she is a Christian candidate before hitting out at Mr Kelleher, saying she wanted to borrow a phrase from US political history and turning to Mr Kelleher, saying: "You are no Brian Crowley."

Ms Heaney said Mr Crowley, who has retired as Fianna Fáil's long-standing Ireland South MEP, defended pro-life campaigners but that Mr Kelleher has taking part in "selling out" the group.

Mr Kelleher remained statue-esque during the attack, and did not respond.

However, fellow Fianna Fáil candidates, councillor Malcolm Byrne, hit back, saying he does not understand why Ms Heaney said "blessed are the meek" as she is not showing compassion to women, saying "I don't know where you learned your Christianity" and that "I don't like giving oxygen to these people".

After uproar for a number of minutes and demands for an apology, Mr Byrne said he was not trying to ridicule Ms Heaney's religious views, leading one audience member to shout: "Ah behave, you're all acting like children up there."

The two-hour debate covered a wide variety of matters, with candidates vying for votes with just a week to go before the ballot.

Greens senator Grace O'Sullivan urged voters to YouTube her long-standing climate change credentials and said she understood grassroots concerns as she was a single mother bringing up a child with a disability.

Solidarity-PBP Adrienne Wallace said she has just been told a friend of hers is becoming homeless and demanded housing action from Europe, while Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ni Riada said it is "scandalous" how much money is not drawn down from the EU.

Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune was immediately forced to clarify revelations fellow candidates Sean Kelly and Andrew Doyle were banned from attending the debate to help her support, saying it was a party headquarters decision instead of her own.

Mr Kelleher dismissed reports of a similar turf war with Mr Byrne, and said he is not seeking to be an MEP as he does not believe he will be in any future Fianna Fáil cabinet, saying "anyone who knows me knows I don't run".

When Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace was similarly asked if his real reason for running was because he is "afraid" of losing his Dáil seat, the Wexford TD responded:

I just hope I'm alive by the time of the [long-awaited] general election.

Identity Ireland candidate Peter O'Loughlin controversially said all immigrants should be "vetted" before coming to Ireland and said no ISIS fighters should return, while Labour's Sheila Nunan stressed her parties pro-EU views.

Separately, Independent candidate Walter Ryan-Purcell said yesterday's €109m EU and Ireland farming Brexit support fund announcement was "stroke politics" designed to help Fine Gael.

The debate had an explosive start, as Independent candidate Diarmuid O'Flynn - who had been asked to sit on a side panel - jumping onto the stage while waiving his crutches, demanding more attention.

Due to the number of candidates in the race, the Irish Examiner invited elected representatives - local councillors, TDs and MEPs - to an on-stage panel. All non-elected candidates formed a second panel, as agreed.

However, Mr O'Flynn took to the stage claiming bias and demanded the debate not be split into "senior hurling" and "junior hurling" panels.

Other Independent candidates joined Mr O'Flynn, before Independents4Change candidate Mick Wallace offered to vacate his seat to give it to rivals. Instead, Mr O'Flynn stormed out.

The debate was attended by 17 of the 23 Ireland South candidates, including Mr O'Flynn, with all represented on www.irishexaminer.com coverage.

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