Micheál Martin plays down rift with Billy Kelleher over MEP nomination

Micheál Martin plays down rift with Billy Kelleher over MEP nomination
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin (centre) speaks to the press during his party's annual conference at the Citywest Hotel in Dublin. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has sought to play down a growing rift with his Enterprise spokesman Billy Kelleher over his intention to run for Europe.

Mr Martin laughed off an audacious stunt by Mr Kelleher at the party's Ard Fheis involving a blitzing of posters in support of a nomination to become an MEP.

Mr Martin had previously made it clear that he did not want Mr Kelleher to run and had given his public support to Carrigaline councillor Seamus McGrath, brother of the party's finance spokesman Michael.

Speaking to reporters at the Ard Fheis, Mr Martin insisted he was happy to see the campaigning underway.

“This is an Ard Fheis, this is a political organisation. It is great to see the campaigning. I mentioned yesterday that one of the great dividends of the Dublin contest was the extent to which it energised the organisation,” he said.

“The evidence here this morning is that the race is in full swing in Ireland South. Seamus McGrath is there, Billy is there with good posters. I always like to see campaigning. I love a good campaign,” he added.

“It is a political gathering and there are delegates here,” he added.

Defending his strategy, Mr Kelleher made it clear he is not going to be put off from running.

He said: "We have already spoken about that, the leader and I. I have expressed my view that I would really like to serve in Europe. I'd like to be involved in that campaign. So he sees my viewpoint as well."

Mr Martin rejected that his strategy of continuing with the Confidence and Supply deal is not endorsed by members in attendance at the Ard Fheis.

“It is not an issue to do with my leadership. People get it and get the complexities involved in Brexit. Of course, members are out there, anxious to get back into government. There is a more nuanced view when you talk through the issues.

“If we were in the teeth of an election we would not be able to put through any elections. To me, it is a no brainer. The people understand the existential threat that the country faces. That is the long and short of it all,” he added.

He again gave his commitment that he would not seek to collapse the government this year, insisting his party made the decision in the national interest to allow space to deal with the impact of Brexit.

He said he is focusing on the upcoming local and European elections and insisted his goal is to be the largest party in the Dail after the next General Election.

“Is it going to be the new norm that we have elections every two and a half years. That is not good for politics. I would not be too hasty on putting dates on anything,” he said.

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