Wily O’Donoghue seeks Kerry nomination as Fianna Fáil views return with unease

Party HQ does not want former senior office-holders, on big pensions, as general election candidates

John O’Donoghue: former ceann comhairle also served as a minister in two Fianna Fáil governments. Photograph: David Sleator

John O’Donoghue: former ceann comhairle also served as a minister in two Fianna Fáil governments. Photograph: David Sleator

Fri, Dec 27, 2013, 01:01

Can Fianna Fáil’s John O’Donoghue be stopped by the party nationally from securing a nomination to contest the next general election in the new Kerry five-seater? And if he does get on the ticket, how will he fare in a county that was once a party stronghold and now has no Fianna Fáil TD ?

These are among the questions exercising minds in the higher echelons of the party and among the grassroots.

The official party line is that general election nominations will be a matter for local delegates, but it is an open secret that Fianna Fáil headquarters does not want any former senior office-holders, on big pensions, as general election candidates, lest they revive bad memories of the party’s time in government. O’Donoghue, from Cahirciveen, who resigned as ceann comhairle in a controversy over expenses and foreign travel, receives an annual pension of €119,000.

At the last election, Kerry was divided into two three-seat constituencies, Kerry North-West Limerick and Kerry South. In the redrawing, west Limerick became part of the Limerick constituency, and the old Kerry North was joined with Kerry South to make up a sprawling five-seater.

Kerry North-West Limerick is represented by Fine Gael Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris and Labour’s Arthur Spring, and Kerry South by Fine Gael’s Brendan Griffin and Independents Michael Healy-Rae and Tom Fleming.

In the last election, O’Donoghue lost out in Kerry South and Tom McEllistrim in Kerry North-West Limerick. Both are making no secret of their desire to be on the ticket next time.

O’Donoghue is the party’s public relations officer in the constituency. “You’ve tried the rest, bring back the best’’ is one of his oft-quoted slogans.

The former ceann comhairle, who also served as a minister in two Fianna Fail governments, declined an Irish Times request for an interview. Earlier this year, in an interview with journalist and author Owen O’Shea in the Kerry’s Eye newspaper, he made clear his ambition to return to the Dáil.

“I would venture to say that I am the most experienced politician in this county who is offering himself for election,’’ he told O’Shea. “Outside of Dick Spring, no other politician has as much experience as I, except I didn’t have the privilege of leading a party.’’

He added that while he did not say it in a boastful way, he doubted “if there was a TD in the history of the constituency who achieved as much for it’’. He described his lifestyle as “frugal’’.

McEllistrim, who comes from Ballymacelligott, near Tralee, intends contesting the local elections as part of his bid for a Dáil seat.

Other names being mentioned for a possible Dáil nomination include Senator Mark Daly from Kenmare, and Ballyheigue-based councillor John Brassil, who narrowly failed to secure a Seanad seat.

There is speculation that the party will approach Tom Fleming, from Scartaglen, who left Fianna Fáil just before the last election to run as an Independent, to return to the fold and be one of its two standard-bearers next time. Some are talking about a Fleming-Brassil ticket.

All agree that O’Donoghue is formidable and wily and cannot be underestimated.