BILLY Kelleher has said that Fianna Fáil can hold its Cork North Central seat and push for a second without him on the ticket.
Mr Kelleher is tipped to be selected by members to try to hold Brian Crowley’s European Parliament seat at the Cork end of the Ireland South constituency when they meet at the party’s selection convention tomorrow in Clonmel.
Fellow Corkman Jason Fitzgerald is also in the running. The party is expected to choose a second candidate from outside of Cork, with Wexford councillor Malcolm Byrne, Offaly councillor Eddie Fitzpatrick, and 2014 candidate Kieran Hartley in the mix.
Former Cork County Mayor Seamus McGrath withdrew from the convention last week, clearing the way for Mr Kelleher to become the front runner, barring an upset victory from Mr Fitzgerald.
Despite recent friction in public, Mr Kelleher said that his relationship with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin is “excellent”.
The two clashed when Mr Kelleher put his name forward, as Mr Martin wanted to avoid any Dáil by-elections and told The Echo that the party could not win a second seat in Cork North Central without Mr Kelleher.
Mr Kelleher said that Fianna Fáil has held a seat there through hard elections, like his narrow 2011 win, and it could still aim for a second.
“We will retain that seat. I would be very confident that we would take a seat and we would still be in a position where we would be ambitiously targeting to maximise our vote and whether or not there is a second seat,” he said.
Mr Kelleher said that his priority in Europe, if elected, would be for Ireland to take advantage of the single market on issues like insurance, mortgages, and business loans, where we pay twice the EU average interest rates.
However, he said that while there needs to be more collaboration, the EU needs to be careful about further integration.
He said too much integration “would stoke nationalism, it would stoke tribalism, it would stoke that view that nationhood is being diminished.
“It is a peace process, it is an economic entity, it has made lives better for millions of citizens — but federalisation could undermine the project itself.
“We have to learn from the fact that Britain has left, or is leaving. We have to look at why anti-EU sentiments are becoming more popular in other countries. We can’t ignore that.”
Mr Fitzgerald, who has a background in construction and agriculture, recently qualified as a business economist. He ran as a Renua candidate in Cork North West in the 2016 election, but joined Fianna Fáil soon after.
He said that Ireland is leaving money on the table when it comes to European investment, and this could be used to build key infrastructure around Munster, proposing a Cork-Limerick train route via Charleville as an example.
Mr Fitzgerald said that Irish agriculture has to reduce its carbon output, but said that it may provide solutions for overall European emissions.