THE Fianna Fail organisation in Donegal North East was in disarray last night after sitting TD Niall Blaney sensationally pulled out of the election race.
The shock news that Mr Blaney was not running emerged just an hour before the party was due to hold its selection convention for the constituency in Letterkenny.
At an earlier meeting in the Silver Tassie Hotel, attended by approximately 100 Blaney supporters, a brief statement was read to the meeting from Mr Blaney.
He said he was standing down, with regret, for "personal reasons" and had no further comment to make at this time.
The Blaney name has been represented in the Dail for the past 84 years, with two brief exceptions.
Sources at that meeting, which was held in private, said the reaction to the statement was one of "absolute shock".
"Everyone was just stunned. They were in a state of shock and dismay," said one insider.
Addressing last night's convention in the Mount Errigal Hotel, which was attended by over 400 delegates, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan invited a close associate of Niall Blaney to read out his statement.
The party had earlier decided to adopt a high-risk two-candidate election strategy in one of the most fiercely contested constituencies -- Mr Blaney, a sitting TD, and Inishowen-based councillor Charlie McConalogue.
Given the last minute withdrawal of Mr Blaney, the Tanaiste said that Mr McConalogue was ratified last night to run for the party in the constituency.
She added that the matter of a second candidate was one for the constituency committee, and would be dealt with by close of business today.
McConalogue, a 33-year-old history and politics graduate who has most recently worked in Fianna Fail headquarters, said he had not expected to hear of Mr Blaney's withdrawal from the race.
"It is not how I expected tonight to pan out. I am surprised by the outcome. I wish him well, thank him and acknowledge the hard work he has done for this constituency," he said.
He told the meeting that it was time party headquarters started listening to its grassroots again.
And he was critical of the Government, saying that "unwise policy decisions" had been made and it was Fianna Fail's prime responsibility to accept that.
The landscape in the three-seater constituency, where Fianna Fail has retained two seats in the past, has changed utterly with the likelihood of Sinn Fein councillor Padraig Mac Lochlainn taking a seat.
Meanwhile, Rachel Doherty, daughter of the late minister for justice Sean Doherty will not be a candidate in the general election in her native Roscommon/south Leitrim.
At the Fianna Fail party convention at the Abbey Court Hotel in Roscommon last night -- chaired by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan -- a decision was made to run two candidates. The meeting chose Roscommon native Ivan Connaughton and Leitrim's Gerry Kilrane.