Monday 17 June 2019

Fine Gael risks re-igniting turf war by giving two top counties to Maria Walsh

All smiles: Fine Gael candidates Mairead McGuiness, Frances Fitzgerald, Maria Walsh and Seán Kelly at Tuar Árd Arts Centre, Moate, Co Westmeath, yesterday. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
All smiles: Fine Gael candidates Mairead McGuiness, Frances Fitzgerald, Maria Walsh and Seán Kelly at Tuar Árd Arts Centre, Moate, Co Westmeath, yesterday. Photo: Douglas O'Connor
John Downing

John Downing

Fine Gael has risked re-igniting a turf war in its Euro MEP campaign by taking two counties from top vote-getter, Mairead McGuinness, and giving sole campaign rights in them to challenger, Maria Walsh.

The pair have already clashed over campaign tactics with Ms Walsh, who won the 2014 Rose of Tralee, pointing out that she is also a crack shot in the Reserve Defence Forces “and will not be pushed over” in any canvass turf battle.

Mairead McGuinness is widely tipped to top the poll in four-seat Midlands-North-West. Newcomer Maria Walsh is also polling well and may be in the hunt for the fourth and final seat – but party strategists believe everything depends on vote management.

Mairead McGuinness, arguably Ireland’s best known MEP locally, nationally and internationally, has not responded to the news given her by email from Fine Gael HQ, that she is to cede two counties east of the River Shannon - Longford and Westmeath - to her rival.  Both counties have a share of Dublin commuters who are believed to be more liable to back Ms Walsh.

Under a diktat issued by Fine Gael headquarters, at the start of the canvass five weeks ago, Ms McGuinness and her team were to canvass in the seven counties east of the Shannon in the sprawling 13-seat constituency.

Ms McGuinness was to campaign in Louth, Meath, Kildare, Longford, Westmeath, Cavan and Monaghan. Ms Walsh was to focus on Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal.

But a fortnight ago, Ms Walsh complained that Mairead McGuinness was active on her side of the constituency even before the campaign formally kicked off. The former Rose of Tralee, who was the first openly gay woman to win the title, said this was intolerable.

At the launch of the Fine Gael nationwide Euro campaign 10 days ago both candidates made light of the spat – dubbed by some in the media as “guns and roses” – and said their effort was to win two seats for the party.

An Ipsos-MRBI poll for the Irish Times last week put Mairead McGuinness on 26pc with Ms Walsh placed fourth with 11pc.  But she was closely followed by Fianna Fáil’s Brendan Smith and Independent Peter Casey and all three could be in a battle royal for the final place.

Online Editors

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