FF split over Byrne backing by leader Micheal Martin
Martin left to deal with fallout over 'disastrous' decision
FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin has deepened the divisions in his party after his personal attempt to recruit Gay Byrne as a presidential candidate failed.
It emerged yesterday that Mr Byrne had phoned Mr Martin personally to inform him of his decision not to enter the race.
"I called him first out of manners and courtesy because he was the one who obviously made the offer of backing me at the time," Mr Byrne said.
But Mr Martin now has to deal with the fallout from his offer to back Mr Byrne, which he made without consulting the sub-committee he had set up in the party to consider his presidential strategy.
There is continuing disagreement in Fianna Fail between those who believe it is not worth running a candidate at all and those who believe the failed attempt to back Gay Byrne means it must now put forward somebody.
One TD said that Mr Martin's phone call to Mr Byrne had been a "disastrous move" which had done a lot of damage. He said that Mr Martin should have used someone else to ensure he would have been "insulated from damage" if it backfired.
It followed earlier criticism of the party's handling of the issue by Fianna Fail senator Mary White and former Fianna Fail Dublin South East TD Chris Andrews.
Former Fianna Fail minister Mary O'Rourke said yesterday she felt there should have been a "more nuanced approach" by the party.
Mr Byrne, who is currently spending time in his holiday home in Donegal, was asked yesterday if he felt his decision not to run had been damaging to Mr Martin.
"Micheal Martin and Fianna Fail are not my concern. I am not going to get involved," he said.
Mr Byrne said claims he was a long-term Fianna Fail voter were "absolutely inaccurate". He said he did not know whether Mr Martin was disappointed or not about his decision to stay out of the race.
"He simply said 'that's your decision and that's fine and thank you very much indeed'," he said.
But Mr Martin received strong backing yesterday from Fianna Fail TDs Timmy Dooley, Sean Fleming and Niall Collins, who all supported his decision to contact Mr Byrne.
"I don't think it damaged Micheal. He made a generous offer and it was Gay's call," Mr Fleming said.
Mr Collins said that the party should only become associated with a presidential candidate who had a serious chance of winning.
Fianna Fail MEP Brian Crowley has been touted as the party's most likely internal candidate, but he could not be contacted for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that the local Fianna Fail organisation in Louth had called on businessman Sean Gallagher to resign from the Fianna Fail national executive last year, saying that he had failed to fulfil his duties as its local representative.
Mr Gallagher, who is running as an Independent presidential candidate, said yesterday he had resigned voluntarily last January.
"I had explained that I was not in a position to attend meetings and I also explained that very much my focus remained in terms of trying to help small business, communities, those who are unemployed," he said.