Fianna Fail senator Mark Daly has been stripped of his role as deputy leader of the Seanad over his involvement in an announcement of the party’s first candidate in Northern Ireland.
In October, flanked by frontbench Fianna Fail TD Eamon O’Cuiv and party senator Mr Daly, Sorcha McAnespy was unveiled as a “candidate” for next year’s local government poll at a meeting in Omagh.
Photos were issued of the trio posing with Fianna Fail-branded election posters carrying Ms McAnespy’s image, urging people to vote for her.
Confusion abounded an hour later when Fianna Fail’s official Twitter account said no decision had been made on contesting the 2019 election in Northern Ireland, and the party’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne accused Mr Daly and Mr O’Cuiv of embarking on a “solo run”.
The episode came amid ongoing speculation that Fianna Fail might ultimately merge with the SDLP to run in future Northern Ireland elections.
A statement from Fianna Fail issued on Wednesday said that party leader and spokesman on Northern Ireland Micheal Martin TD had reassigned a number of responsibilities in the party’s Seanad Eireann team.
Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee will become the group deputy leader, while Senator Ned O’Sullivan will take responsibility for foreign affairs, the Irish overseas and diaspora.
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.
Mr Daly spoke to BBC Radio Ulster on Wednesday and did not express any regrets in the interview, and insisted Ms McAnespy had to be a candidate because, due to party rules, if you are a member of the party and are running in an election then you must run as a Fianna Fail candidate.
“The day they accepted her nomination as a party member and accepted her on to the party executive was the day she became a party candidate at the next election,” he said.
“There’s great impatience in the party in relation to this because for the last five years we have said that we will contest the elections in the north and that was long before any discussions with the SDLP.
“He (Micheal Martin) has said over the last five years that this is a target for the party, but those elections are coming very soon and I suppose if you are a local election candidate or a candidate in any election, you need to put in the ground work and knock on the doors and you need to make sure you meet as many people as possible - that’s how you get elected.
“This is a disagreement over policy and process more than anything else.”
Mr Daly says he has been asked to do other launches in Northern Ireland, adding they would be in the new year.
“I assume the other discussions (with the SDLP) will be concluded by then,” he said.
Mr Daly is still a senator and remains a member of the party, he added.
Mr O’Cuiv was due before party leader Micheal Martin on Wednesday night.
A Fianna Fail spokeswoman said the party would not be making further comment on the matter at this time.