Ganley boost as FF stalwart quits Euro race
Shock election blow for Cowen
LIBERTAS chief Declan Ganley's hopes of taking a seat in the European elections got a major boost after Fianna Fail MEP Sean O Neachtain last night shocked party colleagues by announcing his retirement from politics.
It dealt a major blow to Fianna Fail's chances of retaining all its European seats.
With only six weeks until the June 5 elections, the North-West MEP stunned colleagues yesterday when he announced his decision to stand down on medical advice.
It also represented a massive boost to the campaign of Mr Ganley, who is targeting one of the three seats held by Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Independent MEP Marian Harkin.
Last night, Mr Ganley described Mr O Neachtain as an "honest and hard-working servant" of the people.
Mr O Neachtain, who has been an MEP for the last seven years, was only selected to run again two weeks ago, alongside Fianna Fail Senator Paschal Mooney.
Last night, he said the decision to stand down had been the "toughest" of his life.
"But on medical advice which I have received, I have been left with no option but to withdraw my name," he said.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he fully understood and respected the decision.
"Over the past seven years he has represented the interests and concerns of both his constituents and his country with distinction," he said.
"I wish Sean O Neachtain and his family every success for the future."
As Fianna Fail MEP, Mr O Neachtain was instrumental in ensuring that Irish became an official working language of the European Union. Party sources said that they only heard of the MEP's decision yesterday afternoon.
He did not disclose how serious his illness is.
His withdrawal heaps further pressure on a party already under strain as it heads into the European and local elections.
It is likely that the party will still pursue a two-candidate strategy in the North-West constituency in an effort to stave off the challenge of Libertas, whose vote base is strongest in Galway.
The surprise announcement came amid a war of words between SIPTU and Libertas over the cancellation of a Libertas event in Liberty Hall at the last minute.
Liberty Hall had been booked for some weeks to host last night's campaign launch of Caroline Simons, who is to run in the Dublin constituency for Libertas.
However, just three hours before the launch, the union informed Ms Simons that she could not use Liberty Hall, which is also the SIPTU headquarters.
"The decision should leave working people in no doubt that Siptu, rather than representing the interests of its members, is primarily concerned with doing the bidding of its political masters," a Libertas spokesman said.
Last night, a SIPTU spokesman said that at no point had the event been booked under Libertas. Even if it had, the organisation would not have been entitled to use Liberty Hall, he added.
"It smacks of a publicity stunt," a spokesman said.
Ms Simons later held her campaign launch at Wynns Hotel in Abbey Street, Dublin.