Seán Ó Neachtain's withdrawal leaves FF looking for candidate

 

FIANNA FÁIL will be forced to pick a new candidate to contest the European Parliament elections in the Northwest constituency within days following the surprise decision of MEP Seán Ó Neachtain not to run again.

He said his decision was taken on health grounds. It comes just weeks after he was nominated along with Leitrim-based Senator Paschal Mooney to run at a party convention in Castlebar, Co Mayo.

His departure leaves Fianna Fáil dangerously exposed in the heavily-populated southern end of the constituency. Moreover, it sharply increases the chances of Libertas founder Declan Ganley, who lives outside Tuam.

Fianna Fáil had decided sitting TDs would not be allowed to run for Europe because of the near-impossibility in the current climate of the party winning a byelection.

The issue is now whether Taoiseach Brian Cowen and party headquarters will stick to that policy.

The formal decision will be taken by the National Executive and the National Constituencies’ Council. The party could not say yesterday when this would occur “but that it had to be within days”.

Fianna Fáil Galway West TD Frank Fahey ran for a party nomination for the European Parliament elections in 2004. Mr Fahey, speaking to The Irish Times yesterday, expressed his sympathies on hearing that Mr Ó Neachtain was quitting on health grounds, but said he would not run again: “Absolutely not. I made my contribution the last time.”

Fianna Fáil’s options otherwise are to entice fellow Galway West TD Éamon Ó Cuív – but he has never displayed any enthusiasm for such a role.

Former minister of state Noel Treacy has run and lost and sitting Minister of State Michael Kitt’s profile is not as high as the others.

Mr Ó Neachtain said the decision “was the toughest of my life but I had no option but to step down because of health concerns”. However, he said Fianna Fáil will still win a seat in the Northwest constituency and he wished Mr Mooney well in the upcoming contest.

Mr Mooney said his thoughts were with Mr Ó Neachtain and his family “at what for them must be a very difficult time”.

Mr Cowen said he understood and respected Mr Ó Neachtain’s decision.

Former Republic of Ireland soccer goalkeeper Packie Bonner had been Fianna Fáil’s desired candidate for the northern end of the constituency, but he turned the offer down earlier this year.

Given the party’s current fortunes, Mr Ó Neachtain would have faced a tough challenge to be re-elected, but there are few in the major parties who do not believe that the party will hold one seat in the constituency. However, there is little doubt that Mr Ó Neachtain’s organisation is substantially weaker than it was five years ago when his battle against party headquarters ignited the grassroots organisation.

Meanwhile, former European commissioner Ray MacSharry has endorsed Mr Mooney’s campaign, saying that he is “exceptionally well-placed to serve the interests of rural communities in the European Parliament”.

Another sitting MEP in the constituency, Independent Marian Harkin received the backing of a former parliament president in the European elections yesterday. Pat Cox said that Ms Harkin represented, in her person and qualities, the type of politician so badly needed at this time.