FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern urged Fianna Fail members "off to the hills, off to the countryside" to support the party's by-election candidate Thomas Byrne in a video from 2007 that has now been mysteriously deleted .
The video of Mr Ahern throwing his support behind Mr Byrne – who was dubbed "Bertie's man" in the 2007 general election – was withdrawn from YouTube recently, but Fianna Fail denied that it had any hand in taking it down.
Mr Byrne, the party's candidate in the forthcoming Meath East by-election, has attempted to distance himself from Mr Ahern, saying this week that he was "Bertie's man in 2007" but insisting that a lot of people were "personally disappointed" in the wake of the Mahon Tribunal's report.
The Irish Independent has obtained a copy of the video of the rally in the village of Drumconrath, on the Louth-Meath border. It features the two men.
In it, Mr Ahern says: "We don't give ground or patch to any other party.
"In this area, that patch is Thomas Byrne's, so we ask you to drive hard. Off to the hills, off to the countryside, do your best. Number one, Thomas Byrne!"
Mr Byrne urges party members to return two TDs to ensure that "Bertie Ahern will be Taoiseach". He adds: "I guarantee you if there is (sic) two seats in this constituency for Fianna Fail, Bertie Ahern will be the Taoiseach.
"I want to thank the Taoiseach yet again for the full support he has given to my campaign."
Mr Byrne featured Mr Ahern on his 2007 election campaign literature, when he won a seat in Meath East. He also paid tribute to Mr Ahern when the then Taoiseach announced his resignation from office in 2008.
But Mr Byrne was one of the first in Fianna Fail to criticise Mr Ahern when the Mahon Tribunal report found that he could not "truthfully" explain the source of IR£215,000 (€275,000) in various accounts.
Mr Byrne said it was "difficult to see" how Mr Ahern could continue as a member of the party. Mr Ahern subsequently resigned as a member of Fianna Fail.
A spokesperson for Mr Byrne said: "We do not believe that the people of Meath East were surprised that a party leader endorsed the candidate in a general election.
"The Fianna Fail leader has endorsed the party's candidates in every general election since the party's foundation.
"What is more surprising is that anyone who has experienced the anxiety faced by families across the constituency believes a public event six years ago is worthy of discussion.
"Thomas Byrne's campaign is about the real issues facing people today and what needs to be done to address them."