Labour faces by-election woes as Fine Gael plots ambush
Party is at risk of serious damage if it cannot come up with a candidate for Ming's Dail seat, writes John Drennan
Labour is facing the serious embarrassment of not being able to field a candidate in the forthcoming Roscommon-South Leitrim by-election to replace the seat vacated by Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.
The scenario, where the second-largest party in the Dail may not field a candidate, would do serious damage to the claims within the party that Labour is beginning to mount a "modest recovery". It had been expected the high-profile Labour Senator John Kelly would run. The senator, however, is believed to be severely disillusioned by the failure of the new Labour hierarchy to respond to a list of his demands.
A friend of the senator told the Sunday Independent: "John is still undecided but his instinct is not to run, you need a list of achievements to put before the people."
The friend added: "There is a big list gone out to Joan and the new bosses. They say they're in listening mode. If they want a candidate, it would be a good idea to start here."
One source said: "Kelly is very dog-in-the-manger about it all, he feels what point is there in John going holding his cap looking for votes in a constituency with 23,000 boil notices for water and nothing in his satchel to give them except for a schedule of water charges."
By contrast, even though it suffered a heavy defeat in the local elections, Fine Gael is quietly confident it may achieve a by-election surprise.
The party believes that should the young, first-time councillor Maura Hopkins, an occupational therapist and speech and drama teacher, be selected at next Tuesday's selection convention "then we might spring a surprise". One source said: "She is a lovely girl with a great interest in the countryside. They're gone mad for the women up in HQ and she could fit the bill."
In the absence of a strong Sinn Fein candidate, Fianna Fail's Ivan Connaughton is still favoured to win the seat.
One FG figure said: "Fianna Fail are the bookies pick but they will not be transfer-friendly and by-elections can take a strange turn, they can evolve into presidential-style campaigns that don't follow national trends."