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FF mayor questions party over women candidates

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Fiona O’Loughlin

Fiona O’Loughlin

Fiona O’Loughlin

The Mayor of Kildare, Fiona O'Loughlin, has questioned the sincerity of Fianna Fáil's commitment to running more women candidates.

Ms O'Loughlin, a frequent poll-topper in eight local elections, said that while party leader Micheál Martin insists the party needs more women candidates, the reality is different at other levels of the party. Her comments follow a meeting in three-seat Kildare South which had some members questioning the wisdom of standing a second candidate with sitting Fianna Fáil TD, Sean O Fearghail.

"I just want an opportunity to be selected as a Fianna Fáil candidate and work with the sitting TD to maximise the party vote and hopefully take a second seat, as we frequently did in the past," Ms O'Loughlin told the Irish Independent.

Ms O'Loughlin said she had never sought preferential treatment as a woman politician over 30 years of local work. But she believed the rule on 30pc women candidates strengthened her case to be nominated for the next election.

The sitting TD Sean O Fearghail said as far as he was concerned Ms O'Loughlin was as entitled to stand as anyone else, and the candidate strategy was largely a matter for headquarters and the national executive.

"Fiona O'Loughlin is welcome to stand. I'll accept the national executive's decision, whether that is for one candidate, two or even three," he said.

Ms O'Loughlin said that in previous elections she had worked with Mr O Fearghail and former TD Sean Power to ensure the party took two out of the three seats. Mr Power was defeated in Fianna Fáil's electoral meltdown in February 2011 and Sean O Fearghail was elected in the final count without a quota.

Her local supporters argue that Cllr O'Loughlin has been a proven vote-getter, even in adverse circumstances for the party nationally. But the local tensions are being replicated around the country as the need for more women candidates, at risk of forfeiting taxpayer funding, conflicts with the perceived danger of splitting the vote.

Party sources said the recent Kildare South meeting reflected this tension but insisted that it would be resolved.

The three-seat constituency was without a Fine Gael deputy from 2002 when one-time party leader Alan Dukes lost out, until the last election when newcomer Martin Heydon took a seat. The other seat has been held by Labour's Jack Wall of Athy since 1997 when he first bucked a national trend against his party.

Observers believe the constituency will be very tight and hard-fought next time out. There is also the possibility of Sinn Féin running a good vote-getting candidate and the imponderable of what Independent(s) might field.

In February 2011, Independent Cllr Paddy Kennedy of Newbridge almost brought off a shock. While he polled just 2,806 votes in the first count, strong transfers in all subsequent counts almost carried the day for him.

But in the seventh count a huge volume of transfers from Sean Power of Fianna Fáil saw his party colleague O Fearghail just win out. Ms O'Loughlin argues that she is seeking to work the same territory where Sean Power operated as a TD for much of his Dáil career which spanned the years 1989-2011.

Ms O'Loughlin lives in Newbridge, the main town of the constituency, and originally comes from Rathangan, while Sean O Fearghail is based in Kildare town and has a strong base to the south of that point. She argues that there are enough votes in the north western part of the constituency to make a second seat a strong prospect.

Kildare South has a pattern of traditional voting which is only gradually changing.

Irish Independent