FF unlikely to nominate former minister John O’Donoghue

Former minister ‘political toast’ and unlikely to run in next general election

Fianna Fáil has become privately dismissive of former ceann comhairle John O'Donoghue's chances of securing a party nomination to contest the new Kerry five-seat constituency at the next general election.

"John O'Donoghue is political toast as far as the party is concerned,'' said a source. Most speculation now surrounds Kerry Fianna Fáil councillors John Brassil from Ballyheigue, Norma Moriarty from Waterville, and Tralee-based auctioneer, GAA personality and Irish Times sports columnist Darragh Ó Sé. Although Mr Ó Sé has made no public comment on the matter, it is understood he has been in discussions with the party for some time about running in the general election.

Mr O’Donoghue, who resigned as ceann comhairle in October 2009 amid controversy over his travelling expenses and lost his Dáil seat two years later, has made no secret of his desire to secure a nomination. But his attempts at a comeback received a setback when his brother, Paul, a long-serving councillor, withdrew from last month’s local elections.

Fianna Fáil has become even more fearful of a backlash if it runs former ministers, such as Mr O'Donoghue, following the fallout from the controversy surrounding the intervention in a court case by party justice spokesman Niall Collins.


‘Error of judgment’

“Look at the grief we suffered when Niall Collins made a minor error of judgment when acting in good faith,’’ said a party source. “Imagine what would be thrown at us if we ran a controversial figure from the past in the general election.’’

Mr O'Donoghue was elected to the Dáil for the three-seat Kerry South constituency in 1987 and served as minister for justice and minister for arts, sport and tourism before his appointment as ceann comhairle. That constituency is being amalgamated with the three-seat Kerry North-Limerick West to make up the new five-seater.

Assuming they all run again, six outgoing TDs will be among those fighting for the five seats: Kerry South Independents Tom Fleming and Michael Healy-Rae and Fine Gael's Brendan Griffin; Kerry North-Limerick West's Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, Fine Gael, Arthur Spring, Labour, and Martin Ferris, Sinn Féin.

Strategy right

Fianna Fáil, to secure a seat in a county it once dominated politically, has to get its strategy right. Mr Brassil, who retained his seat in the Listowel electoral area, and Ms Moriarty, who was elected for the first time in the Kerry South and West electoral area, would constitute a geographical and gender balance.

Mr Brassil, a pharmacist and engineer and chairman of the new council, is a strong vote-getter who almost made it to the Seanad in the past. Ms Moriarty, a schoolteacher and community activist, fits the profile for the kind of candidate sought by Fianna Fáil for the next general election.

Mr Ó Sé, meanwhile, would be a formidable candidate, given his popularity, name recognition and his Tralee base. A member of the Ó Sé GAA dynasty from Ventry, he would be likely to secure a strong vote in the Dingle peninsula where Fianna Fáil has lost ground in the past.

Other Fianna Fáil councillors are expected to seek the nomination, most notably former TD Tom McEllistrim. However, his relatively poor performance in the Tralee electoral area, and the failure of his sister, Anne, to take a seat in the Killarney electoral area, represented a setback to his Dáil ambitions.

Mr O'Donoghue, who has declined a request for an interview from The Irish Times, has been studying for the bar. This, said local sources, explained his absence when party leader Micheál Martin visited his home town of Cahersiveen when canvassing in the local elections.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times