FORMER County Mayor Seamus McGrath has dramatically quit the race to become Fianna Fáil’s European Parliament candidate in Cork, clearing the path for Cork North Central TD Billy Kelleher to run for Europe.
The decision will cause ripples within Fianna Fáil, with party leader Micheál Martin indicating that he would prefer if Mr Kelleher did not run for Europe in order to protect his Dáil seat and avoid a Cork North Central by-election.
A European selection convention was due to take place next weekend, with Mr McGrath set to go up against Mr Kelleher and party member Jason Fitzgerald to become the Cork-based candidate in the Ireland South constituency.
Mr McGrath and Mr Kelleher were the clear front-runners for the spot, with the winner an odds-on favourite to claim the seat vacated by outgoing MEP Brian Crowley.
However, citing family reasons for the decision to end his Euro campaign, the poll-topping Carrigaline councillor said he now will focus on the local elections in May instead.
Speaking to The Echo, Mr McGrath said: “I have reflected very carefully on my position in the last week or so and I have reached the very difficult decision not to proceed with my nomination at this time.
“I have made this decision for family reasons.
“Being an MEP would be an enormous honour, but it also comes with a huge impact on family life. My wife and I have two very young children and I have genuinely struggled from the outset on this issue.
“My decision is not a political one, it is a personal one. “I want to sincerely thank all the members who have given me their support. This has been an agonising decision to make, but life requires such decisions.
“This is not my time and I very much look forward to getting stuck into my local election campaign now and continuing the work I do at a local level, which I genuinely enjoy.”
Party leader Micheál Martin had publicly stated that he needed Billy Kelleher to stay in his Cork North Central Dáil seat for Fianna Fáil to have a chance of winning two seats at the next general election.
When asked about Mr Kelleher’s run for Europe, Mr Martin told The Echo recently: “I did point out the reality as I saw it, that it created difficulty for us in Cork North Central, because Billy is a poll-topper.”