CLARE Fianna Fáil Deputy Timmy Dooley has defended the party’s popularity with the electorate, claiming the party’s support “hasn’t significantly declined” since the last General Election.
While the latest opinion poll suggests otherwise and points to a slide of 7%, down from 17% to just 10%, Deputy Dooley said he expected a face-to-face opinion poll, compared to a telephone one, would show a higher level of support for the party.
The downturn in support as reflected in the weekend poll comes on the heels of a decision by Fianna Fáil not to enter a candidate in the Presidential race and speculation of a possible rift with the party leadership over that decision.
“Fianna Fáil has decided not to endorse any particular candidate. I think Fianna Fáil should now focus its energies on rebuilding the party,” Deputy Dooley told The Clare Champion.
Deputy Dooley confirmed Fianna Fáil would not be officially endorsing any Presidential candidate, despite the fact that Fianna Fáil and independent county councillors had facilitated the entry into the Arás race of former national executive member, Séan Gallagher.
The Mountshannon deputy said when the party took the difficult decision not to enter the Presidential race, it also decided not to endorse any particular candidate and this decision was reaffirmed at a parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday.
Playing down reports of a possible rift with the party leadership over the issue, Deputy Dooley added, “I felt that once a decision was made not to enter a Fianna Fáil candidate in the Presidential election, the party should stick to this decision. Fianna Fáil did facilitate the entry of Séan Gallagher and Mary Davis into the race as part of the democratic process, which we were happy to do.
“Fianna Fáil has decided not to endorse any particular candidate. The proposal involving Gay Byrne was put forward as a range of options for the party concerning the Presidential election.
“The party never decided to endorse Gay Byrne because he excluded himself from consideration before a decision was taken not to run a candidate. I think Fianna Fáil should now focus its energies on rebuilding the party,” he said.
While there will be no Fianna Fáil candidate on the ballot paper, some party stalwarts in the county feel they would have had a chance had Brian Crowley been put forward.
Councillor Pat Daly felt that once the party didn’t get behind the Cork-based MEP from the outset, it had very little chance of winning the race to the Park.
“I thought the only candidate we had that would have had a serious chance of getting elected would have been Brian Crowley. He wasn’t involved in the Government and he is one of the top MEPs representing Ireland,” he surmised.
Councillor Daly also felt the Presidential election comes a bit too soon after a disastrous General Election for the party, although he thinks Mr Crowley may have been able to overcome the obvious difficulties.
“It is a bit too close to the General Election, which was devastating but Brian Crowley had a serious chance. He would have been there on his record in Europe. He has a youthful energy and he would have got a cross-party vote.”
His party colleague, Lissycasey-based PJ Kelly, also felt the Cork man was probably Fianna Fáil’s only hope. “My basic feeling is that it probably should have been Brian Crowley. I think he’d have had a cross-party appeal but I’m not privy to what happens in Dublin.”
Councillor Kelly said while Mr Crowley might have been an unknown in some parts of the country, he would have made up the ground.
“There are figures that he was only around 6% in Dublin but he wasn’t in the race then. If it was known he was in the race he would have got some publicity and been on TV and I think he would have caught up. A lot of people I’ve spoken to would have liked to see him going,” he argued.