'I won't be bullied off the ticket' - Cllr Lisa McDonald
Fianna Fáil Election Selection Fallout: Fianna Fáil's decision to add Malcolm Byrne and Michael Sheehan to the ticket and run four candidates in the next election is a bitter blow for Cllr Lisa McDonald and a concern for sitting TD James Browne. We speak to all four combatants on a crowded FF battlefield
Cllr. Lisa McDonald was driving home after collecting her children from St. Martin's GAA Club in Piercestown at about 8 o' clock last Tuesday night when her mobile phone rang.
On the other end of the line was a Fianna Fail party employee in national headquarters who said he had been asked to inform her that both Malcolm Byrne and Michael Sheehan were being added to the General Election ticket in Wexford.
This news was at odds with the outcome of two selection conventions in 2018 which chose sitting TD James Browne and Cllr. McDonald as the candidates in an agreed two-candidate election strategy, with Cllrs. Byrne and Sheehan losing out in the selection stakes.
The party official told her the constituency committee had met and decided to add the other two councillors.
With her children in the back of the car listening to the conversation on speaker phone, Cllr. McDonald's response was: 'You're joking me'.
The party employee then said he had been told to say to her 'to keep plugging away in Wexford town'.
Cllr. McDonald said thanks and hung up and from the back of the car, her 10-year old daughter Caragh piped up: 'Feck them mammy, run as an independent'.
She went home and rang her closest supporters who were 'shocked and horrified' and of the general view that this was political madness and Fianna Fail would lose out on winning two seats as a result, she said.
The manner in which the dramatic change of plan was communicated to Cllr. McDonald was surprising given that she had spent hours earlier that day at the Fianna Fail national think-in in Gorey, attended by party leader Micheál Martin, TD's and councillors from around the country and top backroom representatives.
'Not a word was said. Micheál said he would see me soon for canvassing in Wexford. The General Secretary Sean Dorgan came over and said hello and congratulated me on being elected to the council.'
Irish Times political journalist Fiach Kelly approached and asked her did she not feel shafted as a result of Malcolm getting the parliamentary party meeting and think-in for Gorey. If the party was serious about getting her elected, why wasn't it held in Wexford town.
She said she replied that she didn't think there was anything wrong with holding the event in Gorey.
Asked if she was going to contest the Wexford by-election to fill Mick Wallace's seat, she said 'absolutely' and called on the party to hold a convention to formally select a candidate.
Fiach O'Kelly said the rumour was that Malcolm would be the by-election candidate.
She replied that the rules would suggest there should be a convention and she called on the party to decide the matter by way of a selection convention.
In a photograph viewed after the exchange, Cllr. McDonald noticed that a Fianna Fail press officer was listening in on the conversation.
Afterwards, she returned to work and later went for a walk before collecting her children and receiving the call from party headquarters.
Giving her reaction to the call, she said: 'I was shocked and hurt that they were so naked and brutal in the way they went about their business, that they would do this as a bolt out of the blue without consulting you, that there would be no explanation for this political madness'.
Cllr. McDonald said some Fianna Fail county councillors and former public representatives feel that they should have been consulted. 'They asked me if I had been consulted on it. There was no consultation whatsoever'.
Cllr. McDonald said representatives from party headquarters came to her in late 2017 asking her to go forward for the next general election.
'It wasn't on my radar at the time. I was happy in the Council and running my business. It was probably always in the back of my head but I wasn't focused on it at the time' said the solicitor who runs a busy practice in Rowe Street, Wexford.
'They proposed a two-candidate strategy as they had run three candidates the last time and got one seat' (The candidates in 2016 were James Browne, Malcolm Byrne and Aoife Byrne).
She said she would consider it and spoke to family members and supporters before deciding 'to go for it'.
She contested the Wexford south convention and was selected as the candidate ahead of Michael Sheehan, John Fleming and Michael Whelan while James Browne was chosen as the Wexford north candidate, defeating Joe O'Sullivan, Barbara Anne Murphy and Malcolm Byrne.
She said she doesn't know when the decision was made to change the strategy and she wasn't told, but she was aware that Cllr. Byrne was very buoyed up by his recent local and European elections results and had spent the past three months lobbying to be put on the ticket after topping the poll in Gorey municipal district and polling over 69,000 first preference votes (finishing with just over 80,000) in the Euro elections.
'Michael Sheehan was more of a surprise because it really means that they want me off the ticket. I really think they thought I would throw my dolls out of the pram and say I'm out of here', she said.
Looking at the figures from the 2016 election, she said Fianna Fail polled 19,000 votes with James Browne taking just under 10,000. He has worked hard in the consituency and will hold his vote.
Allowing for a increase in the party's popularity up to about 23,000 votes, that leaves 13,000 to be divided between three candidates, a scenario that will not add up to two seats given that Deputy Browne may need some transfers.
'The maths don't add up. I think what they require is me off the ticket and out of the equation for this to work', said Cllr. McDonald, adding that she has been heartened by the support she has received from party members locally and nationally.
'I will not be bullied off the ticket and I certainly won't be bullied by men who don't have the balls to tell me to my face the reasons and circumstances behind their decision to double the number of candidates on a general election ticket when we currently have one seat out of five', she said.
'At this point, I have to be respectful to the delegates who attended the general election selection convention last year and supported me because they believe in me and believe I would make a good TD. I have to take their views on board. They are feeling very hurt and let down at the moment too'.
She has no issue with Cllrs. Byrne and Sheehan who are 'both fine people' but Fianna Fail asked her to sign up to a two-candidate strategy and by adding an extra two candidates, they are throwing away any chance of getting a female TD elected in Wexford.
'I have to say it smacks of sexism. They don't understand that a woman can make sandwiches for her children in the morning and serve as a politician during the day'.
There was no mention of a by-election candidate during the phone call. Cllr. McDonald said she is now calling on the party to hold a selection convention in Wexford to pick a by-election candidate.
'Obviously, I'm ideally placed given that Mick Wallace is from the area covered by Rosslare municipal district of which I am a councillor', she said.