Fianna Fail’s electoral plans for Northern Ireland have been plunged into chaos after senior politicians unveiled what they said was its first local council candidate, only for the party to later to deny it was happening.
An hour after Sorcha McAnespy was announced as the party’s historic first candidate in a local government election north of the border, Fianna Fail’s official twitter account insisted the party had not yet decided to run candidates in the 2019 poll.
A picture of Ms McAnespy holding a Fianna Fail-branded election poster alongside party TD Eamon O’Cuiv and Senator Mark Daly was released to the Press Association after a party meeting in Co Tyrone on Thursday evening.
A press release with quotes from all three, which also stated the apparent endorsement of party leader Micheal Martin, was distributed with the picture, while a social media video from inside the meeting in Omagh showed the moment Ms McAnespy was apparently unveiled as a candidate.
However, the Fianna Fail twitter account subsequently tweeted: “Despite some reports, the party has made no decision with regard to contesting the 2019 NI local elections. The party is continuing its discussions with the SDLP.”
The episode comes amid ongoing speculation that Fianna Fail might ultimately merge with the SDLP to run in future Northern Ireland elections.
Mr Martin has previously stated his party’s intention to stand in elections in Northern Ireland, though had not made clear whether that would be on its own ticket or as part of a new political project with the SDLP.
Senator Daly later insisted Ms McAnespy was a Fianna Fail candidate.
“Micheal Martin has told her she is a candidate,” he told PA.
He vowed that “many more” Fianna Fail candidates would be announced in the coming months.
Shortly before midnight, Senator Daly said Fianna Fail headquarters had not yet been in contact with him about what had happened in Omagh.
When it was suggested to him that the evening’s events had been somewhat unconventional, he replied: “Sure, that’s Fianna Fail politics.”
Senator Daly said Ms McAnespy, a former Sinn Fein member who currently sits on Fermanagh and Omagh district council as an independent, had been informed by Mr Martin that she would be a Fianna Fail candidate at a meeting of the party’s national executive.
This account appeared to be supported by Ian Woods, president of the party’s youth wing, who said on Twitter he attended that executive meeting and had witnessed Mr Martin telling Ms McAnespy.
Established in 1926, Fianna Fail has long claimed to be Ireland’s true republican party.
As such, it has long faced questions on why it would not regularly contest elections on a 32-county basis.
The party’s internal wrangling comes as the debate on Irish unity has gained renewed traction amid the fallout from the Brexit referendum.