Kelly stands firm over leadership battle

Longford/Westmeath Fianna Fail TD Peter Kelly last night gave his official backing to Fianna Fail leadership favourite Micheal Martin following a behind closed doors meeting with local members of the organisation on Monday evening.

Longford/Westmeath Fianna Fail TD Peter Kelly last night gave his official backing to Fianna Fail leadership favourite Micheal Martin following a behind closed doors meeting with local members of the organisation on Monday evening.

Mr Kelly would not be drawn on his own personal preference going into the meeting at the Longford Arms Hotel, pointing out his wish to consult with supporters and party members before making any announcement.

Those talks which lasted for up to two hours was attended by a number of town and county councillors from right across the county, eventually culminating in the Cork South Central TD's name emerging as the "unanimous" choice among party activists.

"I went in there with an open mind to listen to the Fianna Fail organisation," Mr Kelly said afterwards. "It was a very difficult decision to make as all four candidates would be friends of Longford."

He rejected claims Mr Martin's credibility had suffered a blow in the wake of his initial decision to remain on as Foreign Affairs Minister when declaring he no longer had confidence in former leader Brian Cowen.

"No, I don't accept that," he replied. "I think he conducted himself very well," with the Longford/Westmeath TD adding that he was "very confident" about Mr Martin's leadership chances.

Mr Kelly, nonetheless, said the past seven days culminating in the resignation of Brian Cowen as party leader on Saturday followed by the Green Party's dramatic decision to pull out government less than 24 hours later represented a "very bad week" for Fianna Fail and its supporters.

That said, Mr Kelly maintained he had been too busy concentrating on local matters to focus on the party's leadership debate over the past week.

"I have been down here in the constituency canvassing with Cllr PJ Reilly in Abbeylara last weekend and in Edgeworthstown with Cllr Tom Victory and so far the reception has been good," he said.

Mr Kelly conceded the events of the past week had interrupted his own election campaign, insisting now was the time to move on and prepare for an earlier than expected election possibly before the end of February.

He declined to pass judgement on the performance of Mr Cowen, but suggested the actions of the Government's minority coalition partners should have sparked an almost immediate election despite issues relating to the Finance Bill remaining unresolved.

"I am not getting into post-mortems," he said. "On a personal basis I do feel sorry for himself (Mr Cowen) and his family.

"I do think though that the day the Green Party gave Brian Cowen an hour to tell him they were pulling out of government was the day that I think he should have gone to the President and dissolved the Government."

Meanwhile, fellow Longford-Westmeath TD Mary O'Rourke gave her backing to nephew and Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan.

The veteran Fianna Fail backbencher said Mr Lenihan had the necessary leadership qualities to take the party into the next election and beyond.