Endorsement of SF damaging to FG's campaign, says MEP


FLANNERY COMMENTS:A FINE GAEL MEP has indicated that an apparent endorsement for Sinn Féin by the party’s director of elections has had an adverse impact on its European election campaign.

Colm Burke, who is contesting the South constituency, said that he has been asked many times while canvassing this weekend about Fine Gael’s position on Sinn Féin following comments made by Frank Flannery that the parties could work with each other in future.

Mr Burke questioned the appropriateness and timing of the comments.

He also criticised the manner in which the matter was brought into the public domain by the party “without prior consultation with any of the local or European candidates”.

“I am quite surprised. I got no indication that it was coming down the line. Party policy has been quite clear. I welcome an open debate on it, but I wonder whether or not a week prior to an election is the right time to be raising these issues. It’s not the appropriate time,” said Mr Burke.

The Cork-based MEP said he knew that Mr Kenny had clarified it, but it had not stopped the issue being raised with him by constituents.

“People have raised it with me here [in Co Cork] today. It has raised a question.

“It needs full clarification that there’s no change in policy until there is a full debate in the party,” he said.

He instanced Sinn Féin’s stance on the Lisbon Treaty and the party’s refusal to condemn the killing by the IRA of Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996.

It came as Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said for the second time that Mr Flannery’s comments were made in a personal capacity and did not reflect the party’s policy.

“It’s an irrelevant distraction. It’s nothing to do with these elections as far as I am concerned. I made this very clear yesterday. Fine Gael’s position has not changed since the 2007 election,” he said.

Mr Kenny said that he had spoken to Mr Flannery after the comments were published in the Irish Mail on Sunday.

“I reminded him of his responsibilities. Frank Flannery does not determine what Fine Gael policy is. I enunciated that. It’s very clear.”

Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday said that Mr Kenny’s personal intervention was another example of the internal divisions within the Opposition.

He said Fianna Fáil’s policies were incompatible with Sinn Féin’s policies.

“We don’t believe they have the pro-enterprise, pro-Europe Union policies that are compatible with the Fianna Fáil position,” said Mr Cowen.

Fianna Fáil’s Dublin candidate Eibhlin Byrne pointed to the current alliance between Sinn Féin and Fine Gael on Dublin City Council.

“In a city where we are fighting a very serious crime issue, the party that won’t condemn the murder of Garda Jerry McCabe can sit with a party which claims to stand for law and order. There’s something intrinsically wrong with that,” she said.

For its part, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said that comments from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil about Sinn Féin represented “cynical politics at its worst”.

Over the weekend, Mr Flannery said that the doctrinaire opposition of Fine Gael to Sinn Féin no longer applied. He referred to the peace process and the party’s involvement in government in Northern Ireland.

“We haven’t really discussed it internally at all yet, it’s a matter which I think will arise when we are approaching the next general election.

“It is in my view a theoretical possibility for the future,” he said.