Belfast Telegraph

Poll blow for Fianna Fail

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin's last-ditch drive to stem seat losses in the Irish general election was dealt a severe blow last night with the departure of well-known party figures.

His efforts to stamp his authority on Fianna Fail were thrown into disarray following major setbacks in a number of key constituencies.

And there are still question marks over the fate of a number of senior cabinet figures.

Fianna Fail was last night hit by the retirement of high-profile Donegal North-East TD Niall Blaney, who unexpectedly pulled out of the election race. He is the 18th Fianna Fail deputy to quit before this election.

His decision to stand down for “personal reasons” has stunned the party. The selection convention in Letterkenny was left in disarray when a statement from Mr Blaney was read out to the meeting. His brother, Councillor Liam Blaney, may be added to the ticket.

But there is also a threat of a split in the organisation again — just five years after the Blaneys came back into the Fianna Fail fold 35 years after the arms crisis divide.

Such is the level of uncertainty surrounding the party that Tanaiste Mary Coughlan's

spokesman was forced to deny strong rumours that she too was planning to withdraw.

The spokesman said: “She is preparing her campaign as we speak.”

And in Roscommon-South Leitrim, Rachel Doherty, daughter of the late justice minister Sean Doherty, withdrew her name as a potential candidate.

The setbacks come as Mr Martin conducts a final sweep of Fianna Fail's candidate line-up before the election in the Republic officially gets under way tomorrow — but he faces several problems.

And Taoiseach Brian Cowen was last night widely expected to confirm his retirement in the Dail tomorrow.

Senior Fianna Fail figures in his Laois-Offaly constituency are meeting tonight in Tullamore ahead of the selection convention tomorrow night.

And there are doubts if Mr Cowen's running mate John Molony will seek re-election.

Despite a slight improvement in the party's polling fortunes, Fianna Fail's strategy is to avoid splitting the vote too much and placing further seats in danger.

The party leader managed to convince Cork city colleague, Noel O'Flynn, to stand down to ensure the party won one seat in his constituency.

But Mr Blaney's departure was not in Mr Martin's election campaign plans.

Belfast Telegraph

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