Hanafin election row a shambles for FF leader

Micheál Martin’s leadership damaged by incompetent handling of Hanafin election affair

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin launching the party’s European election manifesto. The party leader authorised the initial approach for Mary Hanafin to stand in the local election

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin launching the party’s European election manifesto. The party leader authorised the initial approach for Mary Hanafin to stand in the local election


The shambles Fianna Fáil has made of Mary Hanafin’s candidature in the local elections could ultimately prove to be disastrous for Micheál Martin’s leadership.

Whether or not Hanafin is elected in the Blackrock ward for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council, the episode revealed a degree of ineptitude that cannot easily be glossed over.

For that, Martin has to take ultimate responsibility, even though he might have felt entitled to a bit more loyalty and understanding from his former cabinet colleague.

The leader authorised the initial approach to Hanafin to stand and when arrangements were in place to add her to the ticket, he changed his mind under pressure and asked her to stand down.

The former minister for education defied him and refused three requests not to put herself forward for nomination. She can now, with some justification, describe herself as an official Fianna Fáil candidate despite the fact her leader and the national constituencies committee, which has the final say in candidate selection, asked her not to run.

Kate Feeney

The matter has now been referred to rules and procedures committee of the party but Hanafin is legally entitled to describe herself as a Fianna Fáil candidate and has the paperwork to prove it.

The official party candidate Kate Feeney, the 28-year-old Ógra Fianna Fáil president and daughter of former senator Geraldine Feeney, has been campaigning for some months.

According to party sources, a private poll conducted some time ago showed Feeney might not take one of the six seats. A subsequent poll was said to show that if Hanafin was added to the ticket, it gave the party one certain seat and a chance of a second.

Party general secretary Seán Dorgan was authorised to approach Hanafin about the running and discussions were supposed to take place two weeks ago. However, Hanafin had already planned to travel to Rome with her mother to attend the canonisation of popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

Authorisation to run

Dorgan met her last Wednesday and on Friday she was given formal authorisation to run. However, when Feeney was informed of the decision to run Hanafin, she threatened to withdraw, arguing strongly there was only one seat in the ward.

Martin then reversed engines and asked Hanafin not to go ahead. She refused to accept his direction and lodged her nomination papers on Saturday. Despite further pleas, she refused to withdraw her candidature before yesterday’s noon deadline. She phoned Martin at 11.45am to tell him she was not pulling out and then went on RTÉ radio to announce her decision.

Hanafin is likely to sweep up the pro-life vote in Blackrock ward, which would put her in with a strong chance of taking a seat. In the last local elections, the quota in the ward was 2,419 but the number of seats has increased from four to six, so the quota this time around is likely to be in the region of 1,750 votes, assuming a turnout of about 60 per cent.

The timing of the affair could not be worse for Fianna Fáil. The party is engaged in a do-or-die struggle with Sinn Féin as to which of them will emerge as the main party of Opposition and Sinn Féin appeared to be gaining ground in recent months.

Just when the arrest of party leader Gerry Adams, in connection with the murder of Belfast mother Jean McConville in 1972, started to take the wind out of Sinn Féin’s sails, the Hanafin debacle has raised fundamental questions of competence for Fianna Fáil and for that Martin has to take responsibility.