A rift has emerged in Fianna Fail’s election campaign in County Longford after a Town Councillor revealed he could not support its manifesto because of social welfare cuts.
Longford Town Councillor, Tony Flaherty said he could not bring himself to hit the canvass trail for the party in the wake of changes made to social welfare, illness and disability benefits announced by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan in December.
He said the €8 a week reduction in dole payments as part of the Government’s plan to shave e873m from expenditure channels was the main factor behind his decision.
“I didn’t agree with the policies that were brought in. I said at the time that if they (government) did it I couldn’t bring myself to canvass for them (Fianna Fail) in the elections as a point of principle,” he said on Monday evening.
A Fianna Fail elected representative for more than 15 years, Cllr Flaherty was responding to questions which had arisen surrounding his omission from canvassing cards for sitting Longford/Westmeath TD, Peter Kelly.
When contacted by the Leader this week, Cllr Flaherty said he had no axe to grind with Mr Kelly, re-affirming instead his desire to see the Longford town backbencher returned to Leinster House later this month.
“They (Fianna Fail) asked me for a photograph and a message. I said I wouldn’t. It’s nothing against Peter, I wish him every success (in the election). Myself and Peter are still great friends. It’s just that I have been a Fianna Fail councillor for 17 years and at the end of the day I have principles.”
Cllr Flaherty said he would continue in his role as a fully committed urban representative both in the lead up to and following polling day on February 25.
As for his future and the possibility of losing the party whip, Cllr Flaherty said the issue was one for party headquarters to decide upon.
“It could happen,” he replied. “That’s up to the party. What I do know is my grandfather was one of the founding fathers of the Longford Town Cumman of Fianna Fail.”
Longford/Westmeath TD Peter Kelly said he had spoken with Cllr Flaherty and had been made aware of his decision to abstain from canvassing for “different reasons”.