FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin is facing a furious backlash from TDs over the party's disastrous handling of the Mary Hanafin affair.
The bitter row blew up after the former Education Minister said she would contest the local elections in the Blackrock ward.
However, she had apparently been told that the party had changed its mind about her standing.
There was widespread confusion last night as to whether Ms Hanafin would defy the party's instructions and continue to contest the local elections.
In an extraordinary turn of events, the former Dun Laoghaire TD has lodged the appropriate paperwork required to declare a candidacy.
And several front bench spokespersons said Ms Hanafin should remain on the ticket, despite a diktat from the party's headquarters that she should withdraw her nomination papers.
Senior party sources last night said it was "completely up to Mary" as to whether she would withdraw her papers by tomorrow's deadline.
And several TDs said they would be demanding answers from Mr Martin as to why Ms Hanafin was approached, and later dropped by the party.
One front bench spokesperson told the Irish Independent: "She's a former minister, you can't just pick her up and drop her like she is something on a supermarket shelf."
On Friday night, rumours began to circulate about Ms Hanafin's intentions to contest the Blackrock ward. She told the Irish Independent on Saturday that she had been approached by FF general secretary Sean Dorgan, who asked her to put her name forward.
But the news of the development caused consternation among several party members in Dublin, particularly FF's candidate in Blackrock, Kate Feeney.
Ms Feeney spoke to Mr Dorgan and other senior party figures over the weekend – and expressed her deep opposition to having Ms Hanafin as her running mate.
The party then performed an embarrassing U-turn late on Friday night, claiming to have told Ms Hanafin that it was no longer considering a two-candidate strategy in the six-seat ward. But the former TD went ahead and lodged her nomination papers with Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.
She claims to have been unaware that the party had rowed back on its decision to place her on the ticket.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Ms Hanafin said she was now preparing to have her posters and leaflets printed and distributed. She insisted that the party approached her about contesting the elections and said she was keen to sit down with party leader Mr Martin and Ms Feeney to discuss their electoral strategy.
However, FF released a statement on Saturday night and said that it had now decided that Ms Feeney would be the only candidate.
It means Ms Hanafin must now decide whether to formally withdraw her nomination papers by tomorrow's deadline or else defy the party and contest the elections.
The manner in which the affair has been handled has infuriated FF TDs.
A senior deputy said that the party has "embarrassed itself" and has now achieved negative headlines three weeks out from the elections.
Another TD insisted Mr Martin would be expected to provide answers at the parliamentary party meeting tomorrow. "Micheal had to know that this was being planned. He's the party leader and just look how stupid we all look over this," the source added.
A FF spokeswoman said no further comment was being made. Ms Hanafin did not respond to a request for comment last night.