Thursday 22 August 2019

Fine Gael's Waterford branch now faces an uncertain future following Deasy 'bullying' row

Political battle: Fine Gael TD John Deasy and his wife, broadcaster Maura Derrane. Photo: Tony Gavin
Political battle: Fine Gael TD John Deasy and his wife, broadcaster Maura Derrane. Photo: Tony Gavin
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

In the words of one minister: "It's all a horrific mess."

Fine Gael TD John Deasy's allegations of bullying in the party's Waterford organisation have created yet another headache for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

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Cllr Declan Doocey. Photo: Mark Condren
Cllr Declan Doocey. Photo: Mark Condren

Mr Deasy's claims came the morning after party members in Waterford voted no confidence in him last Monday.

Fine Gael general secretary Tom Curran is now set to oversee a review into the party organisation in Waterford with various options on the table.

"The organisation has been run down for years, it's gone very weak," a Fine Gael source said.

After the 2016 general election, Fine Gael overhauled its Tipperary branch after losing its two TDs in the county. A similar process, which usually involves an outside review, was recently carried out in Dublin South-Central where it is unclear whether junior minister Catherine Byrne will run again.

"Usually a bunch of people from the outside come in and try to have a number of events and get new people involved in the party," the source said.

"Eventually these new people take it over themselves. I would imagine that is what would happen in Waterford."

One of the most pressing issues is whether Mr Deasy is running again.

He's asked John Paul Phelan, the party's local elections director, to get the Waterford organisation shut down. It is not his decision.

Fine Gael's national executive will discuss the matter at a meeting on July 16, but Mr Curran and the Taoiseach will be the real decision-makers on what happens next.

Local senator Paudie Coffey has rejected suggestions the motion tabled by his brother Eoin last Monday night was motivated by his long-time rivalry with Mr Deasy.

He and others contend it was instead driven by anger at Mr Deasy's performance - or lack of - as a Waterford TD.

"It was coming a long time," said councillor Declan Doocey.

"Deputy Deasy hasn't attended a meeting for four years. He fought no battle for us with north quays, the airport, hospital services. Anything we got, he had no part in it. We're hoping HQ will help us out in some way."

Mr Deasy's defence has been to say his constituency office is one of the busiest in the country.

There is no single reason for the Fine Gael war in Waterford.

Personality clashes and inter-party rivalries that have endured for years appear to have come to a head, but recent rows over local election tickets have raised tensions.

Former senator Maurice Cummins resigned as director of local elections last month over decisions taken by Mr Phelan and HQ, including the vetoing of a candidate in Waterford city east.

Jacqueline Kelly was so sure she'd be on the ticket that she cancelled a holiday, sold tickets for a Rod Stewart concert and booked her car to be fitted with campaign branding.

"[Then] I just got a phone call to say: 'Jacqueline, sorry, you won't be on the ticket,'" she said.

Mr Cummins was also livid over the "parachuting" of former TV3 presenter Ian Noctor into Dungarvan, where he narrowly missed out on a seat.

Mr Deasy, who is married to broadcaster Maura Derrane, was viewed locally as being behind that decision.

But Mr Noctor said he was approached by Mr Phelan and that Mr Deasy did not canvass for him or help his campaign.

In fact, Mr Deasy's reluctance to do any campaigning for Fine Gael during the local elections was one of many grievances raised by members this week.

Meanwhile, his complaints of bullying were echoed by Fiona Dowd, an unsuccessful local election candidate, who claimed there was a "mob mentality" at the meeting last Monday.

Ms Dowd said she was filing a complaint of bullying and intimidation to the Taoiseach and party chair Martin Heydon - neither of whom confirmed that they had actually received it. Ms Dowd rejected claims she was put up to it by Mr Deasy.

"The complaint is in respect of me. If John Deasy is putting in a similar complaint that has nothing to do with me," she said.

Mr Deasy has yet to substantiate his bullying claims and his critics asked for more detail to be spelled out.

Mr Cummins said: "Nobody knows what he's talking about in relation to bullying. Let him spell it out. People in the organisation know nothing about any bullying case."

Irish Independent

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