Taoiseach steps in as row puts FG seats at risk
A furious Taoiseach Enda Kenny has become embroiled in a bitter turf war between Fine Gael's European election candidates, who are locked in a battle for seats.
A row has erupted among Fine Gael's line-up in Ireland South, which is jeopardising the party's chances of winning two seats.
The spat broke out over Deirdre Clune's unauthorised use of Mr Kenny's name in a leaflet asking voters to "give Deirdre your No 1 vote" and only a second and third preference to her running mates, Sean Kelly and Simon Harris.
Opinion polls show that the trio are chasing the third and fourth seats in Ireland South.
The message from the Taoiseach was contained in a leaflet distributed throughout Munster and south Leinster – in clear breach of the party's agreed carve-up of the constituency.
Mr Kenny is said to be angry about the move and the Kelly and Harris camps have made formal complaints to Fine Gael headquarters.
The Taoiseach is understood to have contacted Ms Clune's campaign manager, Michael Creed, about the incident.
"The Taoiseach is hopping mad over it. He was not aware of it," a senior Fine Gael source said.
"He wasn't happy about his name being used without his permission," another party source said.
The leaflet was designed at Fine Gael headquarters on the understanding that it was being distributed by Ms Clune in the Cork area only. Instead, copies were circulated with the Irish Independent throughout south Leinster and Munster.
Fine Gael has now been forced to publish an advertisement asking party supporters to vote in line with the Fine Gael plan of carving up the 10 counties between the three candidates.
A new message from the Taoiseach says: "I am appealing to all Fine Gael supporters to vote in accordance with our campaign strategy."
Mr Harris said he was upset by the leaflet as it "undermines" the work the party is doing to win the two seats.
"I think this (leaflet) isn't fair, and not because it isn't fair to Simon Harris, this has the Taoiseach's signature on the letter – the Taoiseach canvassed with me for two days last week, he canvassed with Sean Kelly, he's canvassed with Deirdre Clune.
"He's worked his backside off to get the best result possible for this party," he said.
Mr Kelly's campaign manager Michael Finucane said he was "furious". "That is deplorable behaviour on behalf of the Clune election team to have the Taoiseach advocating one candidate over another," he added.
However, Mr Creed, accused Mr Kelly and Mr Harris of breaches of the divide without any action being taken by the party's HQ.
"It is unfortunate the Taoiseach is drawn into it. But it's when we put a toe out of line that they come down on top of us.
"We have been trying to get redress for weeks," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Kenny has also stepped in to try to help the Labour Party avoid wipeout.
Last night, he urged Fine Gael voters to also support Labour candidates in this week's elections.
While no formal pact was agreed between the Coalition partners, Mr Kenny said Fine Gael supporters should vote for Labour candidates further down the ballot paper.
"I encourage all the Fine Gael voters when they finish voting for the Fine Gael team, to pass their votes, their preference votes, on to the Labour Party candidates," Mr Kenny said.
"While we won't have a formal arrangement, Fine Gael are very happy to support our Labour colleagues in passing our preference votes on to them," he added.
Labour figures of all ranks believe it is now inevitable that Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's leadership will be debated following the election.
Following calls for him to move from the Foreign Affairs portfolio, Mr Gilmore said discussion on cabinet positions would have to wait until after the elections.