Billy Kelleher’s bid for MEP not ‘good for the party’, says FF leader

Surprise at Micheál Martin’s ‘ruthless’ response to deputy’s plans to run in Europe

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher:  still expected to contest for the European Parliament nomination. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher: still expected to contest for the European Parliament nomination. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

Fianna Fáil TDs have expressed surprise at comments made by party leader Micheál Martin which are being seen as an effort to stop high-profile deputy Billy Kelleher running for the European Parliament.

Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil will find it difficult to win two seats in Cork North Central at the next election if Mr Kelleher becomes an MEP for the Ireland South constituency.

Mr Kelleher, the Fianna Fáil spokesman on jobs, had already publicly said he will contest the Fianna Fáil convention for Ireland South, which will expand from a four-seat constituency to a five-seater due to Brexit.

He is one of a number of senior TDs the party hierarchy is hoping will bring in running mates at the next election.

Séamus McGrath, former mayor of Cork County Council and brother of party finance spokesman Michael McGrath, Jason Fitzgerald, based in Cork North West, and Mr Kelleher are the Cork-based candidates to date to express an interest. Offaly TD Barry Cowen has ruled himself out.

No ill will

Speaking to the Echo newspaper, Mr Martin said he bore no ill will towards Mr Kelleher but has a different view of what is good for the party.

“Séamus McGrath put his hand up in October-November. He met with HQ, he met with myself,” Mr Martin said. “We had a preference at the time that we didn’t want to risk TDs, given the general election that will come as well.

“Séamus looked an ideal candidate to us. He got 5,000 votes in the local election. He had been mayor of the county since, so he had a reach into the county. His brother is well-known,” he said.

So much for the idea of the party leader staying out of it [the selection process]

Mr Kelleher, he said, “came to talk to me about it”.

“He was fair enough from that perspective. I did point out the reality as I saw it, that it created difficulty for Cork North Central because Billy is a poll-topper.

“No doubt that if he stands in Cork North Central for us, the prospect of a second seat looms large. If he doesn’t, it doesn’t, and that creates difficulties for us in Cork North Central. There’s no point in saying otherwise, and I made that point to Billy.”

‘Ruthless’

Mr Martin later said he is “not against anybody” running in the European elections, but some TDs in Leinster House were taken aback by what was described as a “ruthless” move.

“There was no need for that, I don’t think,” said one front-bench deputy, who added Mr Kelleher had given over 25 years of service to the party in Leinster House as a TD and a senator. Another said: “So much for the idea of the party leader staying out of it [the selection process]”.

Mr Kelleher is still expected to contest for the nomination, with other party sources saying Mr Martin’s comments could lead to sympathy for party members and work in the Cork North Central TD’s favour.