Fianna Fail was plunged into fresh turmoil last night after MEP Brian Crowley blamed party leader Micheal Martin's pursuit of a celebrity candidate for his acrimonious departure from the race.
In the latest blow to Mr Martin, the poll-topping Munster MEP questioned the Fianna Fail leader's decision making on the presidential campaign.
The row follows the withdrawal of veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne -- who was asked by Mr Martin to be the party's nominee -- and leaves Fianna Fail in disarray with no obvious candidate to contest the election.
The Irish Independent understands internal party polling presented to Mr Crowley showed he wouldn't win the election.
But the MEP insisted that he could have become the president and branded the reluctance of the party to field an internal candidate as a mistake.
Fianna Fail deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv is not ruling out seeking the nomination.
Former RTE GAA commentator Micheal O Muircheartaigh is also expected to rule himself out, leaving just four candidates declared so far: Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell; Labour's Michael D Higgins; and Independents Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher.
After bypassing Fianna Fail's TDs and senators to approach Mr Byrne, Mr Martin has now pitched the decision on whether to run a candidate to an in-house committee.
The spat is the latest development to undermine Mr Martin's authority.
The cash-strapped party is unwilling to spend money on a campaign it feels would be almost impossible to win in the wake of the 2011 general election wipeout.
Mr Martin and Mr Crowley had spoken about his prospective candidacy on a number of occasions in recent months.
"There was internal polling, which Brian would have seen, showing how he would have fared," a party source said.
Mr Crowley has had a number of run-ins with the Fianna Fail hierarchy, most notably his objections to the party changing its membership of a political group in the European Parliament two years ago.
Fianna Fail members were asking if Mr Crowley's withdrawal was planned to cause maximum embarrassment to Mr Martin.
Some members of the parliamentary party said they thought it was his revenge on the party leader for backing Mr Byrne as a candidate.
Mr O Cuiv said he believed Fianna Fail should have a candidate but refused to be drawn on whether he would put his name forward.
Mr Martin said last night that he respected Mr Crowley's decision not to seek a nomination.
But an overwhelming majority of the messages on Fianna Fail members' discussion website last night were very supportive of Mr Crowley.
The Ireland South MEP said: "The Fianna Fail leadership has demonstrated that it does not want an internal party candidate to contest the upcoming presidential election. So, with much disappointment, I do not now feel free to seek the Fianna Fail nomination."
A sub-committee set up to examine whether or not Fianna fail should have a candidate in the race will meet next Monday.
However, several TDs last night said they believed the leader's problems with Mr Crowley had their roots in his backing of Mr Byrne.
"Micheal went on a solo run," said one TD. "There are only 36 members in the parliamentary party and he should have spoken to us first."
Others in the parliamentary party said that Mr Martin's authority as leader had been damaged by the Gay Byrne debacle and it had also raised questions about his judgment.
Mr Martin said: "I fully respect Brian's decision. He is an excellent parliamentarian and a valued member of the Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party."
INDEPENDENT.IE BLOGS: Why Brian Crowley deserved better than this