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Junior minister ordered not to attend ‘Irish Examiner’ event

Fine Gael’s Ireland South candidates Andrew Doyle, Deirdre Clune, and Seán Kelly, with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: John D Kelly.

A major row has erupted within Fine Gael after junior minister Andrew Doyle was ordered not to attend a hustings event next week, after previously being told he could go.

Mr Doyle, a Wicklow-based TD and junior agriculture minister, and his campaign director Pat Deering, TD for Carlow- Kilkenny, have hit out at Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who has issued an order that he does not appear at the Irish Examiner event in Cork next Thursday night.

“We are not happy about this, not happy at all,” Mr Deering said. “This is clearly about protecting the two incumbents and it is not the first issue we have had. There have been problems with posters going up in Kilkenny. This is unacceptable,” he said.

All three Fine Gael candidates — Mr Doyle and sitting MEPs Seán Kelly and Deirdre Clune — were invited to the Irish Examiner’s Election 2019 Ireland South Hustings event on Thursday at the Clayton Hotel Silver Springs, and all had accepted. But yesterday, Mr Doyle’s team were informed by Mr Flanagan that because of a geographical divide of the constituency, he was not permitted to attend, much to his frustration.

Confirming the diktat to Mr Doyle, Mr Flanagan said the division of the constituency was done to maximise the Fine Gael vote.

“I asked Andrew not to attend public events in Cork and Kerry. There is no bias here to our sitting MEPs. It is simply part of a strategy to manage the vote,” he said.

As director of elections for Ireland South, Mr Flanagan issued instructions in April about how the party was dividing up the sprawling 12-county constituency in order to maximise the vote.

Ms Clune was to be given Cork city and county and Waterford, and was to share South Tipperary with Mr Kelly. Mr Kelly was given Kerry, Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary North to himself, in addition to the areas shared with Ms Clune.

As the Leinster candidate, Mr Doyle was given first right to canvass in Carlow, Kilkenny, Laois, Offaly, Wexford, and Wicklow.

Party bosses have made it known that the divide will be “strictly enforced” and as such Mr Doyle’s attendance to the Irish Examiner event is “not tolerable”.

According to a poll in yesterday’s Irish Times, Mr Kelly leads the pack at 18% — enough to see him elected on the first count were it to be repeated on polling day.

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada is also set to return to the European Parliament if she repeats the 14% she registers in the poll.

Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher is on 13% while his running mate Malcolm Byrne is at 10%. There is likely to be one Fianna Fáil seat here based on these levels of support.

Fine Gael has sufficient support for two seats, though with Ms Clune on 10% and Mr Doyle on 9%, there is no clarity on who might take it.

Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace, on 8%, leads Labour’s Sheila Nunan and the Greens’ Grace O’Sullivan (both 5%) for the final seat.

The Fine Gael row follows a similar split between Fianna Fáil’s two candidates after Mr Byrne lodged an official complaint to party bosses about his party rival Billy Kelleher.

Emails from Mr Byrne allege repeated infringements by Mr Kelleher in counties he agreed to leave alone in order to try and win two of five seats on May 24.

The emails, seen by this paper, show Mr Byrne complained about Mr Kelleher’s “continued ignoring” of the agreed divide.

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