FF urged to add a third name to Wexford ticket
FIANNA Fail is heading into the elections with two candidates in the Wexford constituency, but after a fractious selection process the door has been left open for a third to join the ticket.
One of those whose name was not added, New Ross councillor Michael Sheehan, said he was 'election ready' and urged the Fianna Fail national executive to go for three candidates - one of them him - to try to improve the party's chances of taking two seats which he believes have been diminished because of the way the county has been divided.
All five at last Monday's selection convention - four of them competing to be the second name on the ticket - felt that party headquarters had got it wrong and there should have been three candidates going forward.
Retiring Deputy John Browne's son James was added to the ticket at the convention, joining Gorey councillor Malcolm Byrne, the only FF contender for the 'North South' axis. As a result, Fianna Fail has two candidates north of Enniscorthy and none from the key towns of New Ross and Wexford and other areas to the south.
Enniscorthy-based James Browne took 152 votes, more than double that of his nearest rival Barbara-Ann Murphy, from Bunclody, who polled 74; Cllr Sheehan took 73 and Michael Whelan, from Ballycullane, got 37 votes and was eliminated.
Cllr Browne will represent the 'East West' area of the county, centred on New Ross and Enniscorthy.
Deputy John Browne said about 500 people were present at the selection convention at the Riverside Park Hotel and 299 voted.
He said the Wexford area delegates effectively boycotted the meeting because of the way the county had been carved up by Fianna Fail mandarins but in the event there were some Wexford delegates present.
'There was plenty of criticism of the divide and people expressed concern about the situation for Wexford and New Ross,' said Deputy Browne. 'There was strong criticism of Dublin and party headquaters and the faceless men on the committee and there was also a call that a third candidate should be added.'
Deputy Browne said the convention was chaired by Fianna Fail transport spokesman Timmy Dooley who has by now reported back to party headquarters.
'There will have to be a decision later on whether to add a third, we have plenty of time now,' said Deputy Browne, reacting to the Taoiseach's remarks that he favoured a spring election.
Deputy Browne said it was not the first time that party headquarters had made a 'strange decision' when it came to election candidates in the Wexford constituency and pointed out that in the past Wexford and New Ross had got a free run.
'Every party, when it comes to conventions, has problems. The area left out is always unhappy. The answer is to include all areas at convention stage.'
Asked what advice he would give to James, he said:'He should get out on the road and throw away all these Facebook and Twitter things and get out and meet the people as I always did.'
Cllr Malcolm Byrne said he had looked for an open convention. 'I was confident I would come through it,' he said. 'I was the last of the candidates to find out they were doing the selection process that way, because I was in a meeting when the calls came through.'
He believes that the decision to nominate him for the Gorey and Wexford districts was based on local election results and local polling that has been carried out.
'I think consideration should be given to running a third candidate,' he said. 'We're pretty lucky that five strong candidates put forward their names to be on the ticket.'
He said that regardless of geography, whomever is elected will have to represent the entire county, and will have to have an input into national legislation.
Barbara-Ann Murphy said she was very pleased with how she did on the night, but naturally was disappointed at not being selected.
'I didn't get selected, but I did very well. Everyone going into a convention would expect they were going to win it, otherwise you wouldn't go into it,' she said.
Cllr Murphy said she believed it would be best if Fianna Fail added a third name to the ticket.
'I think it would be the best thing to add someone. If Fianna Fail could do what we always do and transfer votes it would work. Traditionally we may have lost that but I hope we haven't and if you look at how well Keith Doyle did in the local elections last year, we still have that ability.'
Asked whether she believed she was in with a shout if the Fianna Fail executive decided on a third, she replied: 'Its a geographical thing rather than a gender thing, but to be realistic I'm not otimistic. I have to live in the real world and why would they place three candidates north of Enniscorthy,' she said.
New Ross councillor Michael Sheehan said there was a compelling need for a third candidate.
'I said it at the convention that to retain two seats you are going to have to have someone, need someone for the Wexford-New Ross axis. At the moment I fail to see how we're going to attract votes in the south of the county.
'It's going to be difficult for two candidates north of Ennisocrthy to reach out to somewhere like the Hook,
'Sixty per cent of the population and 40 per cent of the vote is split between New Ross and Wexford and if you work with the belief that all politics is local then local people will vote for their man (or woman)...I was bitterly disappointed in the way the areas were divided up.'
Cllr Sheehan said that while he was disappointed at not being selected, his own vote would account for 70 per cent of the New Ross vote.
'I was delighted with that and the level of support shows there is a compelling case for a third name on the ticket.
He said he had received many calls and e mails from people urging him 'to make the case and to keep going'.
'It concerns me that a district of 32,000 people is a candidate-free zone,' he said.
Cllr Sheehan said that the national executive needed to bring the issue swiftly to a conclusion.
'People need to plan and I'm election ready,' he said.
Cllr Whelan said the south of the county had previously returned TDs to the Dail - Sean Connick and Hugh Byrne - and the people from Ross would be looking for a candidate from the area. He said another issue was gender balance, but that was 'a national thing' and no woman from New Ross or Wexford had gone before the convention.
Asked about Fianna Fail's election prospects in the five-seat county constituency, Cllr Whelan said that he expected Independent Mick Wallace to be elected, he would probably get fewer votes that the 13,000-plus first preferences he got in the last election and 'someone has to be there to pick up the votes'.
'Ross has been one of the strongest for Fianna Fail in the constituency in the past and that has been proved. A third candidate is the way to go,' he said.
James Browne said he was delighted with his personal vote.
'My personal vote was almost 50 per cent... by putting Enniscorthy and New Ross together, it was a most difficult convention. I was put in with the toughest area and the four of us had to go up against each other. It was about as tough as it could have been.'
Cllr Browne said he too was in favour of another candidate being added from the south of the county.
'I always felt there should have been an open convention, but it's out of all the candidates' control. HQ punched in the numbers and they did what they did.' He said he wasn't waiting for the election to be called before going out on to the doorsteps. 'I'm officially going to start canvassing this weekend,' he said.