'I can hit 37 out of 40 shots with a rifle' - Walsh guns for FG colleague in boundary dispute
Latest: Maria Walsh describes her marksmanship remarks as 'flippant'
Tensions are flaring in Fine Gael over constituency boundaries in a key European election battleground with polling day fast approaching, the Sunday Independent can reveal.
Maria Walsh, first-time candidate and former Rose of Tralee, has hit out at her running mate Mairead McGuinness for encroaching on to her side of the Midlands North West constituency in the fight for a seat in the European Parliament.
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In unsparing comments, Ms Walsh said she "will not be pushed over" and insisted that she would stand her ground against Ms McGuinness who she accused of straying into her designated electoral area.
Ms Walsh told the Sunday Independent it was "disappointing" that her party colleague was not sticking to her side of the constituency while canvassing for votes.
"It's disappointing from the perspective of a new female candidate because the inclusivity line is important to focus in on and it is a shame because we are both trying to win two seats for the party," she said. The Defence Forces Reserve member added: "As a 31-year-old woman I have a crown and sash from the Rose of Tralee in one hand and in the other hand my marksmanship is 37 out of 40 shots with a Steyr rifle. I'm not here to be pushed over."
The new candidate was challenged on the language she used during the Midlands North-West debate on RTÉ's The Week in Politics on Sunday
Ms Walsh initially said she is "very proud" of being a member of the Reserve Defence Forces and her role representing Ireland abroad as a Rose of Tralee.
She was pressed on if she was proud of boasting about her marksmanship during a row with another candidate.
Ms Walsh replied: "No not at all. I think that was a flippant comment that didn't belong there."
She said the parties aim is to win two seats "securing an effective voice for both east and west".
She said it's "factual" that she uses a Steyr as a member of the Reserve Defence Forces and that she is a Rose of Tralee.
"There' s no grey areas there.
"That's who I am and I think the most important thing here is the fact that it was an interesting line in the sense that people look at perhaps me or any other female candidate as just having on label.
"We're many different things."
Earlier, Ms Walsh told the Sunday Independent the party's strategy was for her to focus on the West and the North West of the constituency while Ms McGuinness was to canvass the East. A diktat issued by Fine Gael headquarters two weeks ago stated that Ms McGuinness and her team were to canvass Louth, Meath, Kildare, Longford, Westmeath, Cavan and Monaghan, while Ms Walsh was to focus on Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal.
However, shortly before boundary lines were officially issued, Ms McGuinness is understood to have spoken in Ms Walsh's former secondary school, Presentation College in Headford, Mayo.
Ms Walsh's camp were also taken aback by advertisements paid for by Ms McGuinness in Mayo and Galway-based local newspapers which made no mention of her running mate.
Sources on the serving MEP's team said she was invited to the Headford secondary school long before Ms Walsh was announced as a candidate and insisted the advertisements related to the candidate's work with the European People's Party rather than the election campaign.
Ms McGuinness said: "I fully support and am abiding by the party's decision to split the constituency between myself and my very able running mate. It makes perfect sense and the focus of my canvass is exclusively on the counties allocated to me.
"Our aim is to win two seats in this large 13 county constituency and I believe we will achieve that."
The two Fine Gael candidates are up against Sinn Fein's Matt Carthy, Fianna Fail's Brendan Smith and Anne Rabbitte, and Independent Peter Casey and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan. The Labour Party is running Dominic Hannigan and the Green Party is represented by Saoirse McHugh.
People before Profit are running Cyril Brennan and former Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames is running as an Independent.