Fianna Fáil ramps up its election preparations

Party will hold selection conventions to have candidates in place before summer break

Fianna Fáil is to step up its preparations for the next election in the coming weeks, with the party expected to begin selecting candidates from next month on.

The party is expected to hold a number of selection conventions from July onwards in order to have a number of general election candidates in place before the summer break.

Party sources said the exact timetabling of conventions will not be outlined until the Constituency Commission reports in the coming fortnight.

The commission examines the composition and size of constituencies after every census, and its latest report will use data collected in Census 2016.

Political sources expect that the number of TDs will increase slightly from its current level of 158 deputies, with speculation centring on the prospect of an additional seat or seats on Dublin’s northside.

Normal preparation

Sources confirmed that Fianna Fáil’s constituencies committee is ramping up its preparations , although it is claimed that this is normal preparation with an election expected within 18 months to two years and is not due to recent political developments.

The confidence and supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will be reviewed after Budget 2019, which will be presented in October 2018. Legislation giving effect to the budget will take a number of weeks to pass, however.

A number of party TDs said privately this week, however, that they believe the chances of an election within the next year have increased because of the election of Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader.

It is expected that Cork South Central – where party leader Micheál Martin and finance spokesman Michael McGrath are sitting TDs – will be one of the first constituencies to hold its convention.

Early convention

Cork North West, where party whip Michael Moynihan and Aindrias Moynihan are hoping to be returned to the Dáil, will also be lined up for an early convention.

In line with Fianna Fáil’s need to pick up seats in Dublin, conventions are also expected to take place in a number of constituencies in the capital early in the process, as are constituencies where there could only be one candidate.

This will be done in order to ensure candidates have enough time to establish themselves before the next election.

“There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, getting people ready,” said one party figure. It is understood this includes preparing certain candidates to ensure they make it through contested selection conventions.

Potential candidates

The constituencies committee is continuing to meet potential candidates, according to sources, and party officials are approaching some who are considering running for the party.

Mr Varadkar has already said that he wants Fine Gael to step up preparations for the next election, and the party held a selection convention in Longford in May.

Party figures have said they must be ready for an election in case Mr Varadkar wants to seek his own personal mandate in the autumn. The Taoiseach's target at the next election is understood to be 65 seats, an increase of 15 on the total won by Enda Kenny at the last election.

Labour has also held a series of selection conventions, although Sinn Féin has yet to do so.