Tense internal battles loom in Ireland South MEP race

FG hopeful keen to have single running mate while Labour candidates push to be the one

Former IFA president John Bryan is thought to be keen to split the Ireland South constituency with sitting MEP Seán Kelly if he runs for Fine Gael. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

Former IFA president John Bryan is thought to be keen to split the Ireland South constituency with sitting MEP Seán Kelly if he runs for Fine Gael. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

 

Tense battles are looming between potential candidates in Fine Gael and Labour for their respective European election tickets in the enlarged South constituency.

Labour announced today that it will pursue a one-candidate strategy in the four-seat constituency that takes in all of the old South constituency, as well as most of South Leinster as well as Co Clare.

It will mean a straight contest between its two prominent contenders, sitting MEP Phil Prendergast, and the Cork-based Senator John Gilroy.

Both candidates are on record as favouring the party running one candidate. Both welcomed the decision and expressed confidence that they will carry the vote at the selection convention on February 23rd. The venue has not yet been announced.

While both Ms Prendergast, who took over the seat after Alan Kelly was elected to the Dáil two years ago, and Mr Gilroy have been careful in their public utterances about the merits of their rival, supporters of both candidates say the contest will be intense with likelihoods of public clashes.

Fine Gael is to hold off deciding whether it will run two or three candidates in the Ireland South constituency until next week.

Former IFA president John Bryan is pushing for only one running mate on the party ticket, rather than two.

A meeting of the Fine Gael executive council last night heard the exact strategy will not be decided until after the closing date for nominations for the constituency selection convention, which takes place on Sunday, February 16th.

Anyone hoping to run will have to put themselves forward without knowing the final structure of the ticket.

Sitting Kerry-based MEP Seán Kelly is running again and Mr Bryan is likely to run from his Leinster base in the new, expanded constituency which now takes in Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford and Wicklow as well as Munster.

Cork city based Senator Deirdre Clune is also keen to run on a three candidate ticket, and some party strategists say Fine Gael cannot afford to leave Cork open to rivals.

“We have 100,000 Fine Gael votes in Cork city and county, do you just write all of them off?” asked one senior party figure.Fine Gael is aiming to win two of the four seats available in the constituency.

On the Labour side, Ms Prendergast said that the one-candidate decision was undoubtedly the correcti one.

“It would be fully to do anything else other than have one candidate. I do not think we have enough votes across the constituency to run two candidates, who will effectively cancel each other out.”

Ms Prendergast expressed confidence that she would enjoy the support of most TDs and Senators from the region, as well as a majority of the members.

For his part, Mr Gilroy said: “I intend to give party members a choice about who will contest this important election. It is good for democracy that nominations are contested and it shows that the party is in good heart.”

He added: “I have no personal gripe with Phil Prendergast. Phil fulfilled a role after she took over from Alan Kelly when he became a Minister of State. However, I have the experience and energy needed to offer a better way of representing the people of Ireland South in the European Parliament.

“I am also sure that my ability to win votes across my home base of Cork city and county will be a vital factor in retaining the seat for Labour.”

Ms Prendergast said that she had difficulties with the tone of some of Mr Gilroy’s statements in which he referred to something lacking in the way people are being represented.

“It is undermining to me a bit regretfully,” she said.

While it is thought likely Mr Bryan will eventually run for Fine Gael, another party source mentioned Wexford-based senator Michael D’Arcy as a possible replacement in Leinster.

While Mr Bryan did not return calls, those close to him stressed he is pushing for a two-candidate strategy.

“You don’t get to be IFA president without being a shrewd political operator,” said one source. “He’s looking at the numbers and the numbers are telling im two candidates would be the best approach.”

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