Monday 23 October 2017

FF faces crisis in by-election after Lenihans decline to run

Party to be left without seat in capital

Sam Smyth

BRIAN Lenihan's family will not put forward a candidate for the late Finance Minster's Dail seat in Dublin West -- giving beleaguered leader Micheal Martin a massive headache in his bid to hold on to the party's only seat in the capital.

For the first time in 34 years, no member of the Lenihan family will stand for election in Dublin West. This by-election was triggered by Mr Lenihan's death in June.

Family sources said that Tom Lenihan, the late minister's 20-year-old son, would not be standing for the seat first won by his grandfather in 1977.

And his brother, former junior minister Conor Lenihan, who lost his seat in February's general election, told the Irish Independent he would not be a candidate.

Mr Lenihan, now living in Moscow, said: "I have no plan to re-enter political life in the short to medium future."

The by-election is expected to be held on October 27, the same day as the presidential election.

The end of the current political dynasty underlines how toxic the Fianna Fail name remains with the electorate and highlights the massive task Mr Martin has to turn the party around.

It comes in the wake of Mr Martin's attempt to offer to support Gay Byrne for the presidency -- a move which backfired spectacularly and raised new questions about his leadership.

Fianna Fail expects local councillor David McGuinness, who ran in the general election, to be their candidate, but the party organisation is still mourning the loss of Mr Lenihan. Mr McGuinness, who took Sinn Fein candidate Paul Donnelly's seat on Fingal County Council, is 15-8 second-favourite to win, according to bookies Paddy Power.

But local party workers are angry that no candidate is likely to be selected before Mr Martin visits the constituency on September 7.

Leader

"If our candidate was selected on the day the leader visits, that would only leave us seven weeks to set and run a campaign. The party organisation is in chaos," a source said.

None of the parties has yet held a selection convention, but no surprises are expected when the candidates are announced.

The population of Dublin West, now at more than 100,000, is the youngest, fastest-growing and most ethnically diverse in the Republic.

Bookies have already made the Labour Party candidate Patrick Nulty 6-4 favourite, even though government plans for an annual €100 household charge will be a major campaign issue.

Mr Nulty polled well in the general election but has a very tense relationship with sitting Labour TD Joan Burton, the Social Protection Minister.

A councillor in Fingal, Mr Nulty campaigned against the household charge and is strongly opposed to water charges.

But concerns about the future of a 24-hour A&E service at Blanchardstown Hospital could leapfrog household and water charges and dominate the election agenda.

If Labour has internal tensions and Fianna Fail is in chaos, the major party in government, Fine Gael, is keeping an enigmatic silence.

Kieran Dennison, who was Transport Minister Leo Varadkar's running mate in the general election, is understood to be the likely candidate.

But the secrecy in Fine Gael may be connected with rumours about Fine Gael parachuting in a celebrity candidate alongside Mr Vardakar in Dublin West.

Speculation intensified when former athlete Eamon Coghlan, appointed to the Seanad by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, declined to run in the by-election.

Mr Dennison, a councillor for Mulhuddart, polled 7.5pc of the first preferences, comfortably ahead of the likely Labour Party and Sinn Fein candidates, in the by-election.

Although the Government hopes to be the first since 1973 to win a by-election in office, sources believe it is much more likely to be the Labour Party candidate rather than FG's.

Joe Higgins took an impressive 19pc of the first preferences for the Socialist Party in the general election and the party is already campaigning for the by-election.

Ruth Coppinger is expected to be the candidate and she plans to put the downgrading of Blanchardstown Hospital alongside household and water charges on her platform.

Irish Independent

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