Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has denied he is attempting to block Billy Kelleher from contesting the upcoming European elections.
Given Mr Kelleher’s popularity within the parliamentary, there has been some annoyance expressed by TDs and senators at Mr Martin’s perceived attempts to deny him from running.
The party looks set to run two candidates in Ireland South and Cork councillor Seamus McGrath, brother of party finance spokesman Michael, has also declared his intention to stand. Gorey councillor Malcolm Byrne has signalled a desire to run.
Despite long-standing tension between Mr Martin and Michael McGrath, it appears the two camps in Cork South-Central are united in their desire to deny Mr Kelleher.
Speaking yesterday ahead of his party’s ard fheis, Mr Martin said he is looking to secure three MEP seats and appeared to row back on comments 24 hours earlier that Mr Kelleher’s election to Europe would damage the party.
“I am not against anyone, particularly including people like Billy Kelleher. Letters have gone out about the convention on Ireland South so I will not be enforcing a view,” he said.
Earlier this week, he said the party cannot win a second seat in Cork North-Central without Billy Kelleher on the ticket.
Party bosses yesterday issued notice for nominations for the Ireland South convention and delegates have been informed nominations will close on March 6.
Mr Kelleher made no comment when contacted by the Irish Examiner.
It was also confirmed that Offaly-based TD Barry Cowen has ruled himself out of contesting the convention, as had been speculated. and it is looking increasingly likely that Kilkenny TD John McGuinness will also not contest a seat on the ticket.
Mr Martin did concede that while Fianna Fáil was successful in the 2014 local elections, the party “did take its eye off the ball” when it came to the Europeans.
He said he was fully aware of anger within the party at the continued support for the Government but Brexit trumped all other concerns.
He said he felt the general election will take place in early 2020.
“We will not be going into power with Sinn Féin. The electorate can give us any result. Our preference is to go into power with smaller parties and we will campaign on that basis,” he said.