How Blaney dropped bombshell weeks after marriage break-up
FOR the first time in 84 years, the Blaney name will be absent from the ballot paper in the Donegal North East constituency in next month's general election.
But what happened between 12.30pm and 7.30pm last Friday to prompt 37-year-old Niall Blaney to pull out of an election campaign he had already begun to fight?
For his shell-shocked foot soldiers, who have canvassed the sprawling rural constituency for his father and uncle before him, the abrupt statement delivered on Sunday evening citing "personal reasons" offered little in the way of explanation.
Just weeks ago he had begun holding working meetings as he put together a team to fight what he knew would be the most difficult election he or Fianna Fail had ever fought.
It was at the start of one of those meetings in the Silver Tassie Hotel on January 9 that he dropped the bombshell that his eight-and-a-half year marriage to Rosaleen (nee Shovelin) had ended by mutual consent, and they had agreed to separate.
The couple married in August 2002 after a relationship of around five years and had three children, aged one, three and four.
Rosaleen, who prefers to remain out of the limelight, has continued to live at the family home near Rossnakill in the Fanad peninsula.
But as far back as November, it was known locally that the couple were living apart and Niall's public appearances in the constituency had become less frequent.
"He seemed to be spending more and more time in Dublin. He hadn't been attending funerals or events that he would normally have been seen at for some time, which was causing people to wonder," one local source told the Irish Independent.
At the next meeting, convened for November 23 in the same venue, it was business as usual and campaigning matters such as fundraising, putting up posters and designing and distributing literature were all thrashed out.
Fast-forward to last Thursday and Niall was preparing for what was being seen as the media launch of his election campaign when he would host the annual Donegal Sports Star Awards at the Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny.
Some 550 tickets were sold for the gala event the following night, the highlight of the county's sporting calendar.
The day before, the TD spent several hours at the hotel rehearsing the running order for the evening with the organising committee.
He returned for some final preparations on Friday at midday, and left the hotel half an hour later.
Then at 7.30pm, an hour before the guests were due to arrive, a committee member received a text from Niall Blaney stating he was sorry he couldn't make it.
"There was just disbelief and frantic attempts were made to call him," a guest at the event said.
Throughout Saturday, small groups of Blaney supporters met at secret locations in Fanad. A meeting was called for an hour before the selection convention was to take place.
Around 75 supporters gathered in a state of confusion. By 7.25pm it was clear Mr Blaney was not going to show up and a statement was read out by his close ally, Donal Coyle.
The same statement was read again an hour later by Mr Coyle to a stunned convention, chaired by Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, who was also taken aback by the decision.
A party insider said supporters were angered that he had not turned up in person to explain.
"We are talking about people who have worked for the Blaney's for 40 or 50 years who are feeling very let down. They feel they deserve more than a short statement," he said.
An internal rift which has existed between the Blaney supporters and supporters of former TD Dr James McDaid following the merger of Independent Fianna Fail and Fianna Fail in 2006 had never been repaired.
One possible explanation being considered is that the new Fianna Fail leadership had asked him to stand aside.
But others believe mounting strain on his personal life had forced him to make a the difficult decision.
One supporter speculated his wife and three young children may have been central to the decision.
"This has got to have been a wild hard decision for him to make. Being away from home so much as a TD has got to put a strain on a relationship. I hope that he has decided to put his wife and kids first and if that's the case, then I applaud him," he said.
Late yesterday evening, Niall's older brother Liam Blaney decided not to put his name forward.
They have asked their supporters to back Letterkenny-based councillor Dessie Larkin, a former member of Independent Fianna Fail, as a second candidate for Fianna Fail in the constituency.
Dessie Larkin is quick to stress that any talk about the collapse of the Blaney dynasty is premature.
"Anyone who knows the Blaneys would know that you could not say this was the end of anything.
"I have no doubt that they will come back, bigger and stronger than ever," he said.