Kate O’Connell rules self out of byelection due to ‘lack of leadership support’

Former Fine Gael TD claims there were people in party who ‘planned’ her exit

Former Fine Gael TD Kate O'Connell has announced that she will not seek her party's nomination for the Dublin Bay South byelection, saying there is a faction in the party which does not want her to run.

Ms O’Connell said she had made it known to the party that she was interested in being a candidate but Fine Gael had insisted on following a process that would have made it “impossible” for her to win at convention.

She also said there were elements in the party locally who were determined that she be ousted from Fine Gael.

“There has been a faction, I would feel, within the party since the leadership campaign which I thought had long gone out with the tide, who have long planned the exit of myself,” she told Today with Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio.

Ms O’Connell said it was clear she was “not the desired candidate” of the leadership and claimed there were people within her party who had “planned” her exit.

Ms O’Connell said that there were some in the constituency - which comprises much of Dublin 4 and Dublin 6 - who presented her as a rural blow-in.

She said somebody had brought a sod of turf to a local event and that there was also a plan to put a sign outside her family pharmacy stating “This way to the M50”, signalling to her she should go home to her native Co Westmeath.

“[The message was] you are not from here. You are from the country. We don’t like the cut of your jib… You are undesirable and unsuitable and possibly not good enough.”

She said there had been an increase in membership in the constituency since she lost her seat in the general election last year and that, if the conventional selection path was chosen, it would be impossible for her to be chosen.

‘Choirboys’ comment

Asked had the “choirboys” comment she had made about party leader Leo Varadkar’s supporters, or her recent critical comments of him, made any difference, she said she had a reputation for “rising” people from time to time.

“I don’t really know. I have no problem with Leo Varadkar. I accepted he won the leadership. I put my heart and soul into legislation.

“I have risen him on occasion and that is my nature. In any party there is no such thing as a wrong question.”

She said there had been a determined group within Dublin Bay South intent on her not representing the party. “The coffin was made a long time ago,” she said, “which would make it impossible for me to win at convention.”

Ms O’Connell supported Simon Coveney in the 2017 Fine Gael leadership battle during which she described Mr Varadkar’s backers as “choirboys” who were “singing for their supper”.

She said her working relationship with Mr Varadkar never recovered from that campaign “despite my best efforts” and her loyalty to he party.

She said she had been accused of not attending local meetings but was working assiduously in the Dáil serving on committees.

Ms O’Connell said that there was an idea in the party that she had “served a purpose in taking a seat back from Renua for Fine Gael and my job was done.

“From that point the replacement plan was put in place. I have faced over the years personalised commentary and attacks in terms of attending Fine Gael meetings.

“They don’t seem all that important but when you tie them all up there is a faction.”

Fianna Fáil’s director of elections for the Dublin Bay South by-election Jim O’Callaghan said that, while he was disappointed for Ms O’Connell, he was very pleased that she would not be competing against his party’s chosen candidate.

Mr O’Callaghan said that he knew and liked Ms O’Connell whom he said had been a “very effective TD.”

“She has done Deirdre Conroy and Claire O’Connor a favour,” he said in reference to the two possible Fianna Fáil candidates.

Mr O’Callaghan said Ms O’Connell had very narrowly missed out on a seat in the last election and had received a significant number of votes.

If voters were pro-Government then they should look to the two Fianna Fáil candidates, he added.

Minister of State Damien English expressed his disappointment that Ms O’Connell “was choosing not to contest” the by-election.

The Fine Gael TD denied that it was an instruction from on high, said members of the party in the constituency chose the candidate, “no one else.” It was “one person, one vote.”

He said he would have imagined that she would have good support within the constituency. The “choirboys” comment was not an issue, and everyone had moved on from it, Mr English said.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik will be her party’s candidate in the byelection. Her nomination was the only one received by the deadline of 12 noon on Friday.

She will be formally ratified by the party at its selection convention on Monday, May 17th.