The bitter feud in Fine Gael’s Waterford organisation which has exploded this week has been a long time coming. In one corner stands sitting TD John Deasy and in the other stands his rival and Fine Gael’s chosen general election candidate senator Paudie Coffey.
On one level, the passing of a unamimous motion of no-confidence in sitting TD John Deasy at a meeting on Monday night showed a local organisation deeply unhappy with their own area boss.
Deasy, based in Dungarvan, has held the seat previously occupied by his late father Austin since 2002, has been criticised for being absent on the ground for a long time. Coffey was a TD between 2011 and 2016, but lost the seat as Fine Gael suffered heavy losses nationally.
On RTÉ radio on Tuesday, councillor DamienGeoghegan said he was once a supporter of Deasy but has become disillusioned with him and hence he supported the no-confidence motion at the meeting.
But it has since emerged that the motion of no confidence was tabled by Eoin Coffey, brother of Paudie. It has also emerged that Senator Coffey spoke out against and criticised his Dáil colleague, but the two are not close and never have been.
Deasy was not present at the meeting on Monday and neither were many of his supporters. Deasy has not attended such meetings for years. He says this is because of an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation within the local organisation.
He was backed up by party member Fiona Dowd, who has lodged a formal complaint with the Taoiseach over alleged “bullying and intimidation”.
Dowd, who failed to be elected to the county council last month, claims she was told to shut up at a Fine Gael meeting and has been targeted by members of the party in Waterford who have “mob mentality”.
As to his absence on the ground, Deasy has pointed to his work as a special envoy to Washington as his reason for not being as visible as he normally would be.
Confirmation from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that a review will take place has been welcomed by both Deasy and his rivals, including former senator Maurice Cummins, who has been very critical of Deasy’s performance. The Taoiseach has acknowledged there’s a longstanding split in the organisation.
“It’s come to a head and we need to bring it to a close, and I intend to do that as party leader over the next couple of months,” he said.
“As party leader, I intend to deal with that over the recess,” he added.
A further complication to this is that Deasy is not yet a confirmed candidate on the general election ticket as he was medically unfit at the time of the convention in 2017. But signals are he will be added in due course.
Given the Maria Bailey issue is still live, this row in Waterford is the last thing Varadkar needs on his plate.
Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran will have to get to the bottom of it but as long as this row is allowed to fester then the party’s chances of holding its one seat in Waterford is in jeopardy, let alone any suggestion that it could win back the seat previously held by Coffey.