Who will FF choose to replace Séan Ó Neachtain?

MEP Sean O Neachtain pictured at the FF selection convention in Castlebar this month.

MEP Sean O Neachtain pictured at the FF selection convention in Castlebar this month.

Fianna Fáil have only a short time to select a replacement candidate for Séan Ó Neachtain and whatever option the party chooses is fraught with danger. Could this be the opportunity that allows Declan Ganley to win a seat in the EU parliament?

When MEP Séan Ó Neachtain announced on Monday that he would not be contesting June’s European Election on the grounds of ill-health it came as a genuine surprise. However none was more surprised than Fianna Fáil HQ.

“Fianna Fáil HQ are stunned and that’s the understatement of the year,” an FF source told the Galway Advertiser. “They have nobody! They’re desperately searching for a candidate. They might even have to end up running three.”

Two weeks ago, the party selected MEP Ó Neachtain and Pascal Mooney to run. Now that MEP Ó Neachtain is gone, the party must find a replacement (or two ) if it wants to keep its EU seat in the North West and fend off the serious challenge being posed by Libertas’ Declan Ganley.

Already a plethora of names has emerged as to who FF HQ might suggest. One of the first was the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív.

Many within FF would feel Minister Ó Cuív is the only one who can hold the seat, given his high profile and the fact he is in touch with rural issues (important in this largely rural constituency ).

However running a cabinet minister at a time when Fianna Fáil are a toxic brand in Irish politics could be an absolute lightning rod for those angry with the Government. Furthermore if Minister Ó Cuív were to win the seat it would result not only in a by-election (which FF could lose ) but also a Cabinet reshuffle - neither of which Taoiseach Brian Cowen would relish.

There is speculation that HQ said it will not run any sitting TD. However there is also speculation that HQ is pleading with Dep Noel Tracey and Dep Frank Fahey to consider running. Nonetheless the risk of creating a subsequent by-election will weigh on the minds of the party leadership and this could see them deciding against such a course of action.

However - and put nothing past FF - what if the party pulls the ultimate act of cynicism? It has a TD run and win, who immediately resigns the Euro seat and lets the sub (Pascal Mooney ) take over. Perhaps that’s too sneaky, even for Fianna Fáil.

If not a TD, who might run so? Pat O’Rourke stood at the recent selection convention but following his defeat there, he may not be looked on as a possible candidate now.

Former Galway hurler Joe Connolly has been mentioned but whenever there is an election, Joe Connolly’s name always comes up. While he has been involved at Cumman level with FF in Menlo over the years, he has politely indicated in the past that he does not want to get involved in active politics.

Aer Arainn’s Padraig Ó Ceidigh has been mentioned, but like Joe Connolly he also tends to be name-dropped whenever there is an election. FF have made no secret of the fact that a big criterion is a candidate with the resources to run a campaign. On that basis it would appear to be a straight choice between Mr Connolly and Mr Ó Ceidigh. Again though the question must be asked: Does either of them want to run?

Another name is Minister Ó Cuív’s son Éamon Óg Ó Cuiv, but he is based in London which may rule him out. Síle deValera has also been talked about. She was an MEP for Dublin from 1979 to 1984. She would retain a profile among the public, but it is very hard to see her making a real impact. She announced her retirement from politics some years ago and in terms of her EU stint, 1979 is a very long time ago.

Galway city councillor Michael J Crowe has indicated he is interested but do not expect to see him on the ticket. While Cllr Crowe cuts a colourful figure in City Hall and has a high profile in the city (and to a certain extent in Galway West following the 2007 General Election ), voters in Westmeath, Clare, and Monaghan are hardly going to put their faith in a complete unknown.

Could FF ask Maire Geoghegan-Quinn to stand? She would have a reputation, name recognition, and is still active in Europe with her work in the Court of Auditors. She would have to resign from that body before running but her term only has about 18 months to run anyway, so if she won the election she could stay in Europe. It is possible but does she want to get back into electoral politics?

A final possibility is Senator Terry Leyden. Sen Leyden has been knocking on the door (often forlornly ) for years to have a crack at an EU seat. Could his time finally have come?

Despite the odium in which FF are held by the public at the moment, the polls show it retains enough support to hold one EU seat. However FF could easily lose it if it does not have a strong ticket with a name people recognise. It could lead to an element of soft FF voters saying, ‘I won’t bother’ if the candidates do not appeal to them, leading them to switch to Marian Harkin or Declan Ganley instead.

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