Ireland needs Fianna Fáil now more than ever, says Martin

Opposition leader says makes comments at selection convention for European elections

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was addressing delegates at the party’s selection convention for the Ireland South European constituency

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was addressing delegates at the party’s selection convention for the Ireland South European constituency

Sun, Mar 9, 2014, 19:28

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has told party members that Ireland needs the party “now more than ever”.

Addressing delegates at the party’s selection convention for the Ireland South European constituency, Mr Martin described Fianna Fáil as a “pro-European party,” from the time when the late Seán Lemass first put forward the idea of applying for membership of what’s now the European Union.

“There are many challenges facing Ireland and Europe and we need MEP’s who will represent people’s concerns and play a constructive role in tackling issues,” he said.

“Ireland needs us now more than ever, particularly when we need to ensure that a deal is done on debt retrospection.” The selection of sitting MEP Brian Crowley and anti-pylon campaigner Kieran Hartley from Mahonbridge in Co Waterford took place without a vote, after party researcher Adrian O’Higgins withdrew from the race for a nomination.

Mr Martin said after the convention two seats for the party in Ireland South would be “a very good result” but admitted it would be “very challenging” to achieve that result.

In his speech, Brian Crowley said party members were “crying out” for the party to become strong, and pointed out that “on our worst day, 16pc of the people still came out and voted for us”.

Fianna Fáil’s political obituary was written after the 2011 general election, he said, but the party was surviving and increasing in strength. “We’re still a national movement, let’s not forget. We haven’t gone away, as another party leader put it one time.”

Fianna Fáil has already chosen Mary Fitzpatrick to run in the Dublin euro-constituency while its north-west convention will be held next Saturday when sitting MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher is expected to be joined by Meath-based senator Thomas Byrne on the ticket.

Mr Crowley (50) was first elected to the European Parliament in 1994 and has been a consistent vote-getter at each of the three elections since his first success. Mr Hartley (40) came to prominence in recent months as one of the leaders of the anti-pylon campaign in Munster, established to fight Eirgrid’s plans to build corridors of pylons across the southern half of the country in the coming years.

“I’ve been a member of Fianna Fáil for a long number of years. My family have been steeped in tradition for Fianna Fáil.” He was involved in the establishment of the Rethink Pylons umbrella group and also one of the main people behind a protest walk held last year in the Comeragh Mountains which attracted thousands of people to demonstrate their opposition to the pylon plan. He is a member of the Comeragh area branch of Fianna Fáil.

Mr Hartley said he chose to run for the European elections because of the issues that are being raised in rural areas. “There’s nobody listening to us. Our voice is not being heard. It’s just devastation, it’s absolute devastation out there at the moment.”

Ireland south, comprising all of Munster as well as Kilkenny, Carlow, Wexford and Wicklow, will return four MEPs in May and Mr Hartley said he “hoped to be in contention for the fourth seat”.

There was a standing ovation from the 300-plus delegates at the Clonmel Park Hotel for retiring MEP Liam Aylward, who told the convention “we cannot under-estimate the importance of the local and European elections” which will represent the party’s first electoral test “since we got a hammering in 2011”.