Veteran Fianna Fáil TD Michael Kitt has said he was “very surprised” that former Labour TD Colm Keaveney was joining his party and admitted that half his local party was in revolt over the decision, which he found out about from local radio.
The announcement is a major boost for party leader Micheál Martin, bringing the number of Fianna Fáil TDs in the Dáil back up to the 2011 general election level of 20.
However, he will have to handle a backlash from the Galway East constituency, some of whom feel the former Labour chairman was parachuted over the heads of local councillors to run in the 2016 general election.
Mr Kitt, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and who was Fianna Fáil’s only TD in Galway East, did not attend the parliamentary party meeting, which unanimously voted to accept Mr Keaveney’s application.
Mr Kitt said he was at a hospital function with health spokesman Billy Kelleher, part of whose brief will transfer to the newcomer, who becomes Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on mental health and special needs.
“I was very surprised myself. I had no indication this was going on and I first found out from local radio. I have received a number of phone calls this morning and many people are very annoyed,” he said.
Mr Kitt has not yet decided if he will run alongside Mr Keaveney in 2016.
While Mr Kitt accepted that an extra TD was a great boost for the party, Tuam councillor Michael Connolly said there was a lot of dissatisfaction in Galway East, adding that he was “very surprised Mr Keaveney has subscribed to our philosophy and ethos”.
Another member, who asked not to be identified, accused Mr Keaveney of leaving Labour when it was no longer “sexy” and said Fianna Fáil was just a flag of convenience.
The pressure is on in Galway East as it is reverting from a four-seater to a three-seater and boundaries are being changed.
Following the Mahon tribunal, Mr Keaveney condemned the “rampant corruption” that he claimed littered Fianna Fáil, saying the corrosive and destructive nature of politics in Ireland was caused by that party.
But yesterday, he praised the party for learning lessons from the past and said it was an easy decision to join.
“It has become increasingly clear to me that the only organisation in Irish politics that seems genuinely interested in learning from the lessons of the past and putting fairness at the heart of policy making is Fianna Fáil,” he said.
Asked by the Irish Examiner if his decision to join Fianna Fáil was purely for pragmatic reasons, he said: “Fianna Fáil have offered me the opportunity to fulfil what I want. I don’t lose sleep about the next general election. I will stand on my record.”
Mr Martin said Mr Keaveney approached Fianna Fáil around four weeks ago. The party leader said he was struck by his commitment to fairness and his determination to make his time in politics count. “He is someone who is deeply motivated by the impact politics can have on individuals and communities and wants to be part of an organisation that is committed to a fairer way to recovery,” Mr Martin said.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte tweeted that the move was “a match made in heaven”, while Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said there had been “a way back” to Labour for Mr Keaveney but he chose not to take it.
By Juno McEnroe
* Colm Keaveney, 42, first sought a Dáil seat in 1997.
The Galway East TD was considered a champion of trade unions and as being in touch with Labour’s grassroots. Then he rebelled and voted against his party’s budget measures and has now defected to Fianna Fáil.
The former trade union organiser had for months expressed concern about decisions being made by Labour as support for his former party dropped in the polls.
Keaveney was elected chairman of Labour in April 2012. But he jumped ship when asked to vote on cuts to child benefit in that year’s budget.
Since then, Labour considered him a thorn in its side — despite the fact he was still chairman and attended board meetings.
Earlier this year, he left the party altogether.
There had been speculation Keaveney would run as an independent in next year’s European elections.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved