FORMER County Mayor Seamus McGrath is “actively considering” a run for Fianna Fáil in the European elections next May.
The Fianna Fáil leader on Cork County Council said that he is discussing putting his name forward for selection with his family and colleagues and will make a decision in the coming weeks.
He is believed to have strong support among the party’s leadership as Fianna Fáil seeks to take two seats in the expanded five-seat Ireland South constituency and regain representation in the European Parliament after a five-year absence.
Veteran MEP Brian Crowley lost the party whip in 2014, has been unable to attend the European Parliament since then due to illness, and is widely expected not to contest the next election.
Speaking to the Evening Echo, Mr McGrath said he is examining the viability of a European run as he feels that the European Parliament is “critically important” to Ireland after the events of recent years.
Cllr McGrath said: “We know that many of the challenges we face as a country are common to other member states and will require a coordinated European approach.
“At this point, we still do not know the outcome of the Brexit debacle, but the whole process has highlighted the need for Ireland to be a central player in European affairs,” he said.
He said that Ireland needs effective representation in Europe, and he will consider whether he can meet that challenge in the coming weeks.
“To stand as a candidate for the European elections would be an enormous challenge and would require a strong support base so I am currently consulting as widely as possible.
“The first challenge would be to successfully contest a party convention and so far I am heartened by the encouragement and pledges of support I have received,“ he said.
Mr McGrath is the brother of Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson and Cork South-Central TD Michael McGrath, and was co-opted into his council seat in 2007.
He topped the poll in his local electoral area at the following two elections, and racked up the highest preference vote in the country in 2014, pulling in more than two quotas.
He served as Mayor of Cork County Council in 2016/17.
Ireland South is gaining an extra seat in the next parliament after the UK’s old seats were shared out among remaining member states following Brexit.
The constituency now includes all of Munster, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Wicklow, Laois, and Offaly.
The number of seats may change if the UK decides to remain or extends the withdrawal process.
Fianna Fáil is expected to field a fresh European in the constituency next year, with Mr Crowley expected not to run. He lost the party whip almost immediately after the 2014 election after he joined the European Conservatives and Reformists group, instead of ALDE, Fianna Fáil’s official European grouping.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has banned sitting TDs from running in order to avoid triggering any by-elections, so the ticket is expected to come from the party’s council ranks, with a selection convention in the coming months. Wexford councillor Malcolm Byrne has expressed his interest and has travelled the constituency seeking support from members in recent weeks.
Former Renua candidate for Cork North West, Jason Fitzgerald, is also considering a run, having joined Fianna Fáil after his 2016 election loss.
Waterford-based Kieran Hartley, who ran alongside Mr Crowley in 2014, is also expected to put his name forward. Mr Hartley, who would take over as a substitute for Mr Crowley if he resigned before the next election