Tuesday 12 December 2017

Fine Gael turf war breaks out on 'breach of campaign rules'

Deirdre Clune and Sean Kelly are being accused of campaigning in Simon Harris' Leinster territory
Deirdre Clune and Sean Kelly are being accused of campaigning in Simon Harris' Leinster territory

Fionnan Sheahan Group Political Editor

FINE Gael's European election candidates are already at war with accusations of breaches of campaign divides.

Party figures have attempted to play down the rift between the candidates caused by incursions into forbidden territory as "confusion over the use of SatNavs".

In a bid to maximise its vote, the party has introduced strict rules on where candidates are allowed to campaign in Ireland South, covering Munster and south Leinster.

But party candidates Deirdre Clune and Sean Kelly are already being accused of breaking agreements to stay out of the four counties in Leinster, where Simon Harris is based.

Ms Clune even sent a letter seeking support to each party member in Leinster – including Mr Harris.

She and Mr Kelly have also been canvassing on the Leinster side of the constituency.

Ms Clune also had advertisements on bus shelters in Leinster counties and Mr Kelly had billboards in those counties.

Mr Harris is the only candidate in the race based in Leinster and the party has allocated the area to him, apart from a 10-day period later this month when there is a free-for-all.

"I wouldn't be entirely happy. There is a strategy in place. From where I am from, I would like to think an MEP will be elected from the south-east. Simon was last into the race and with less resources. In order to win the two seats, we need to stick to the strategy," said Fine Gael TD Pat Deering, a supporter of Mr Harris.

Ms Clune's campaign manager, Michael Creed, said the posters erected in Leinster were paid for before Mr Harris had entered the race and there was "no malintention".

"We have explained that and there is no issue there," he said.

Mr Kelly's campaign manager, Michael Finucane, said the billboard advertisements had been booked quite some time before the campaign started. He said Mr Kelly's campaign respected the divide.

"As far as we are concerned, we have been abiding by that," he said.

Fine Gael director of elections for Ireland South John-Paul Phelan admitted there had been some difficulties, but said the important aspect was having all three candidates fighting hard for votes.

"There have been some teething issues. The 'no campaigning in particular areas' has been adhered to. The three are up and campaigning and that is the most important thing. Our three are all on the road," he said.

At the moment, Mr Harris, right, is allowed to campaign wherever he wants, but Mr Kelly and Ms Clune must stay out of Leinster.

In the final weeks of the campaign, all three will be penned in to particular areas. Mr Kelly will have Kerry, Limerick and Clare to himself and Ms Clune will have Cork.

Mr Harris will get Wicklow, Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford, while Tipperary and Waterford will be a free-for-all.

Irish Independent

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