Sunday 25 August 2019

Fine Gael braced for civil war as EU election kicks off

Fitzgerald 'furious' at last-minute revelation of Durkan candidacy

Frances Fitzgerald Picture: Frank McGrath
Frances Fitzgerald Picture: Frank McGrath
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Fine Gael party officials are bracing themselves for all-out civil war with tensions already beginning to rise between the party's two Dublin candidates ahead of the European Parliament elections.

With the vote on May 23 less than seven weeks away, supporters of both former tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald and ex-SDLP leader Mark Durkan have begun briefing against each other's candidacy.

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Mr Durkan's camp has raised concerns about Ms Fitzgerald shoring up support among Fine Gael's senior ministers and "hogging all the limelight" before the campaign has officially begun. "She has whipped most of the parliamentary party into supporting her and it has left Mark with very little," one source said.

Meanwhile, Ms Fitzgerald's supporters are suggesting that the Derry politician's lack of a vote in Dublin could ultimately damage the party's performance in the polls.

"He has no support base in Dublin and we can't presume on vote transfers just because the opinion polls show we are preforming well in Dublin," a source in her camp said.

Ms Fitzgerald and Mr Durkan have put on a united front in recent weeks but sources say the former justice minister was surprised by how the SDLP politician was added to the ticket.

"She wasn't told till the last minute and was rightly furious," one source said.

There are also fears in Fine Gael that a billboard campaign promoting Mr Durkan which will be unveiled next week will heighten tensions further.

The poster campaign will feature images of Mr Durkan along with the hashtag #backthebackstop - the insurance policy in the Brexit withdrawal agreement which ensures there will be no border on the island of Ireland. "Mark's a very legitimate candidate with great experience and he can be a unique candidate," a Fine Gael source said.

Sources in Ms Fitzgerald's camp insisted yesterday that the Fine Gael budget for the campaign would be split equally and all candidates would be supporting the backstop.

Fine Gael election strategists hope the rivalry will bring out the best in both candidates.

The battle for European Parliament seats is also set to reignite Fine Gael leadership election rivalries with Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy acting as director of elections for Mr Durkan and Health Minister Simon Harris working for his long-time mentor Ms Fitzgerald. The two ministers were on opposite sides during the bitter Fine Gael leadership campaign.

Mr Murphy was Leo Varadkar's key lieutenant during the contest while Mr Harris was Simon Coveney's most prominent supporter.

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