SKIBBEREEN-based Fine Gael councillor Karen Coakley insists that she won’t be bullied into withdrawing as a general election candidate amid major dissent in the ranks of Fine Gael in Cork South West over the selection process.
It is believed that 550 party members have signed a petition calling for Noel O’Donovan, a former county councillor, to be added to the party ticket for the 2020 general election.
On the night of Wednesday, December 18th, Fine Gael’s national executive council, and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, chose the sitting Fine Gael councillor, Karen Coakley, to stand as a running mate alongside Senator Tim Lombard, who was previously chosen at a selection convention.
There had been an expectation that both Karen Coakley and Noel O’Donovan would be added, but that did not transpire. A petition, calling on the Taoiseach to remedy the situation, was organised and, within a 72-hour period, it was signed by an estimated 65% of the Fine Gael members in Cork South West (CSW).
It has been suggested that figures in the Skibbereen branch were as high as 72% with 24 out of 33 people in that branch signing the petition in favour of Noel O’Donovan.
The petition is to be presented to both the Taoiseach and Paschal Donohoe, who is the party’s director of elections, and it is understood that Mr Donohoe has agreed to meet a deputation from the CSW constituency, but no date had been confirmed.
The chairman of the CSW constituency, JJ Walsh, said: ‘It is outside the control, or jurisdiction, of what happens at constituency level. It is a matter for the executive council and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.’
However, Cllr Karen Coakley said she ‘was devastated over this.
‘I have been bullied for the last two weeks. What I have had to endure has been horrendous. I was chosen as the first female on the ticket in CSW and now I believe I am being bullied.’
The former mayor of Skibbereen said she was delighted when it was first announced that she had been chosen to be Senator Lombard’s running mate.
But she claimed it quickly emerged they wanted a male candidate. Since her selection, she said: ‘I have been the victim of character assassination. It feels as if people are putting pressure on me.
‘It’s as if they are hoping I will cave in and withdraw my name, but I am not going to be bullied. I am going to stand up to them.’
Senator Lombard said he fully supported his running mate and suggested that the party must now ‘work as a team.’
He said: ‘Selection is always a hard decision to make, but the decision made by the national executive and the Taoiseach probably reflects the fact that Karen Coakley was Fine Gael’s most successful candidate in the local elections; the fact that she is geographically well-placed; and is an experienced county councillor. I also genuinely believe it is important to have gender balance.’
Fine Gael constituency secretary, Yvonne Cahalane, confirmed to The Southern Star that she received the petition and that it will be presented to Paschal Donohoe at the meeting with the CSW deputation.
She said the petition was drawn up because members of the constituency believe their voices are not being heard. And the party secretary said: ‘There was nothing personal about the petition.
‘This is bigger than any one person,’ she said. ‘It is about members choosing their candidate in their constituency.’