FIANNA Fáil cannot win a second seat in Cork North-Central without Billy Kelleher on the ticket, according to Fianna Fáil party leader Micheál Martin.
Speaking ahead of the party’s pre-election Ard Fheis this Saturday, Mr Martin said that Fianna Fáil’s election strategy is to win at least three seats in the European Parliament without losing any TDs in the process.
However, he said that may change if members choose Mr Kelleher to contest the Ireland South constituency at a convention to be held in the coming weeks.
Mr Kelleher and county councillor Seamus McGrath have both declared that they will contest the convention.
Mr Martin said that the party was seeking councillors to run before Christmas, with Mr McGrath emerging from Cork, along with Malcolm Byrne in Wexford.
“Seamus McGrath put his hand up in October/November. He met with HQ, he met with myself,” Mr Martin said.
“We had a preference at the time that we didn’t want to risk TDs, given the general election that will come as well.
“Seamus looked an ideal candidate to us. He got 5,000 votes in the local election. He had been Mayor of the county since, so he had a reach into the county. His brother [TD Michael McGrath] is well known,” he said.
However, Mr Kelleher threw his hat into the ring too upon the retirement of Brian Crowley in January.
Mr Martin said that he had no ill will towards Mr Kelleher, but has a different view of what’s best for the party.
“In fairness to him, he came to talk to me about it. He was fair enough from that perspective.
“I did point out the reality as I saw it, that it created difficulty for is Cork North Central because Billy is a poll-topper.
“No doubt that if he stands in Cork North Central for us, the prospect of a second seat looms large. If he doesn’t, it doesn’t, and that creates difficulties for us in Cork North Central. There’s no point in saying otherwise, and I made that point to Billy,” he said.
Mr Martin said that the party is aiming to win at least three seats in the European Parliament after a poor election in 2014.
“We took our eye off the ball,” admitted Mr Martin.
In that election, Brian Crowley in Ireland South was the only candidate elected, with the party losing out in Dublin and Ireland North-West.
Mr Crowley lost the party whip soon after and was unable to attend parliament since then due to poor health.
Mr Martin said that the party is aiming to win a seat in each of the three constituencies, and will aim for two in the expanded five-seat Ireland South.
He expects the party’s national election committee to recommend that members at the selection convention choose one candidate from Cork and one from the south-east of the constituency.
The party held its first European selection convention in Dublin on Sunday, where former TD Barry Andrew was chosen to run. He beat out fellow Bertie Ahern/Brian Cowen-era Minister Ministers Mary Hanafin and Conor Lenihan, and same-sex marriage campaigner Tiernan Brady.
In Ireland South, Sinn Féin has already selected Cork’s Liadh Ní Riada to run again, while the Green Party will be re-running Waterford’s Grace O’Sullivan, who has become a Senator since her 2014 loss.
People Before Profit will run Adrienne Wallace, a Cork-born activist now based in Kilkenny.
Fine Gael is to hold its selection convention on Sunday, March 3 in Clonmel, where sitting MEPs Deirdre Clune and Seán Kelly are expected to be selected again.