Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin has insisted he is not trying to block any of his front-line TDs from running in the European elections amid a flurry of rumours over the future of his most experienced colleagues.
Mr Martin rejected claims he will attempt to stop senior party members from seeking to win a seat, despite weekend claims he is privately concerned over losing Dáil seats at a crucial time.
In a surprise move earlier this month, long-time Cork North Central TD and Fianna Fáil jobs spokesman Billy Kelleher revealed he is bidding to win an Ireland South constituency seat in the upcoming MEP elections in May.
Fellow TD Brendan Smith also announced he intends to run, with rumours circulating that public expenditure spokesman Barry Cowen and back-bencher John McGuinness are also considering a European run.
Mr Martin is understood to have made it clear privately last year he does not want any of his TDs to seek an MEP seat due to the close nature of the Dáil arithmetic and because he wants to promote other candidates.
Last Thursday, he said he expects selection conventions to put the party’s interest first.
However, speaking on RTE Radio’s This Week programme, Mr Martin insisted he is not trying to block any TDs from running.
“I’m blocking nobody from running for anything,” said Mr Martin. “People will be in a position to put their names before convention and I’m not going to stop that.
“Obviously there’s a national executive committee that will look at electoral strategy for the party in terms of Europe. But I think there’s increased interest in Europe.”
While he denied any blocking of candidates, those interested in seeking an MEP seat will have noted his caveat that all candidates first have to put their name before a selection convention and will need the support of the party’s headquarters which dictates the election strategy.
In addition, Mr Martin’s attempt to name-check Seamus McGrath — a Cork city councillor and brother of Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath, who is also seeking an Ireland South MEP seat — when asked about Mr Kelleher will have further raised questions over his comfort in allowing TDs to run.
Meanwhile, a similar issue is emerging in Fine Gael, with rumours circulating over the future of a number of TDs whose Dáil seats may be crucial to ensuring the party remains in power.
While Fine Gael figures are also understood to oppose any sitting TDs running in the MEP elections, minister of state for higher education Mary Mitchel O’Connor and senator James Reilly have confirmed their interest in the role, while previous reports have suggested Frances Fitzgerald and John Deasy may also contest.
Among the other names being mentioned about a potential interest in running include ex-Fine Gael minister and former Renua leader Lucinda Creighton, and ex-Fianna Fáil minister and party councillor Mary Hanafin.