Bizarre Fianna Fail rift over northern candidate

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A potentially historic announcement of a first Fianna Fail candidate in the Six Counties has instead exposed a deep divide within the party over its stance in relation to northern elections.

In an extraordinary move, Tyrone councillor Sorcha McAnespy, a member of Fianna Fail’s national executive, was announced as the party’s candidate in next year’s local government elections during a full-blown campaign launch.

A Press Association ‘exclusive’ carried photos of the event, complete with giant election posters for Ms McAnespy’s future campaign. The candidate posed for photographs in the company of high profile party figures, TD Eamon O Cuiv and Senator Mark Daly.

A press release with quotes from all three, which also claimed the apparent endorsement of party leader Micheal Martin, was sent to the media, while a video from inside the meeting was released to show the moment Ms McAnespy was ‘unveiled’ as a candidate.

“I am delighted Deputy O Cuiv and Senator Daly agreed to come to Omagh this evening to launch my campaign following my invitation and have both agreed to be my campaign managers,” Ms McAnespy said.

“There is an appetite for change in Northern Ireland and there is an appetite now more than ever for Fianna Fail to contest elections in Northern Ireland.

“Micheal Martin made the commitments in 2013 to contest local elections in 2019 and I was delighted when he confirmed I would be a candidate for Fianna Fail in the upcoming local elections in 2019.”

But it soon emerged that the former Sinn Fein councillor, who sits as an independent on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, had made the announcement without the backing of the party leader.

Fianna Fail headquarters moved quickly to distance itself from the announcement in an official tweet, within an hour of the event becoming public.

A party spokesman later added: “Despite some claims and reports, the Fianna Fail party has made no decision on whether or not it will contest elections in the north. It follows then that it has selected no candidate to contest these elections.”

The spokesman said a statement about the outcome of its talks with the small nationalist SDLP would be “made in due course”.

Senator Mark Daly later brushed off the controversy, describing it as typical “Fianna Fail politics”.

It has been reported that Ms McAnespy, Senator Daly and Deputy O Cuiv could by disciplined over Thursday night’s announcement.

The party’s internal wrangling comes amid signs of discontent over the leadership of Micheal Martin following his stance in favour of abortion and his continued support for a Fine Gael minority government.

With historic links to the old IRA, Fianna Fail has often claimed to be Ireland’s ‘true’ republican party. However, it has typically reverted to hardline anti-republican policies when in government.

As a result it has little discernible support north of the border and for that reason it had sought to form an alliance with the SDLP. This week SDLP representative Claire Hanna appears to have ruled out supporting ties with Fianna Fail.

When asked whether she would remain a party member if ties with Micheal Martin’s party were formalised, she told the BBC “it is not a party I would join”.

“John Hume located the SDLP firmly in the social democratic tradition and in a global tradition and that’s good enough for me,” she said.

“And when you look at all the problems facing Northern Ireland and Ireland, bad governance and division and Irish unity, I don’t believe Fianna Fail solves any of those problems.”

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