Blow to Martin as Blaney suddenly quits election race

FIANNA FÁIL leader Micheál Martin suffered a significant setback last night after one of the party’s best hopes to retain a seat stunned his supporters by announcing he would not contest the election.

Sitting TD Niall Blaney failed to turn up at the Fianna Fáil selection convention for Donegal North East after earlier telling supporters he was not putting his name forward. He cited personal reasons for not standing, but would not elaborate further.

Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin said she was “shocked” by Mr Blaney’s decision not to run.

The surprise announcement came just hours after Mr Martin had appeared to be getting a grip on candidate selection strategy.

Following discussions with Mr Martin, Cork North Central TD Noel O’Flynn announced he would not run, to give his colleague, junior minister Billy Kelleher, a better chance of retaining his seat.

But if Mr O’Flynn’s announcement was a welcome one for Mr Martin, Mr Blaney’s was the opposite.

It leaves the lower-profile councillor Charlie McConalogue as the sole Fianna Fáil nominee in the constituency, unless Mr Martin decides to add another candidate in the coming days.

But he will have to act fast, with Taoiseach Brian Cowen set to trigger the general election tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Mr Martin admitted the party’s 16% showing in two new opinion polls “isn’t enough”.

While representing a modest two-point climb in FF support from the Cowen era, it comes nowhere near the 20%-25% range that Mr Martin has set as his target.

There was some good news for Mr Martin however, as one poll showed him favoured to be Taoiseach with 31% of voters, compared to 26% for Labour’s Eamon Gilmore and Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny on 19%. Mr Martin is set to name his deputy and front bench team today.

* http://www.youtube.com/user/irishexaminer?blend=1&ob=5#p/a/u/0/KKg587_IcQk

* Micheál Martin speaking to reporters in Cork yesterday morning. Footage: Dan Linehan.

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