LABOUR Leader Eamonn Gilmore has an onerous task on his hands ahead of the General Election being called as he attempts to unite his party flock in Laois/Offaly.
Thirty irate party members staged a dramatic walk out at their selection convention in Portlaoise's Heritage Hotel on Friday night in protest at the selection by Labour HQ of former Offaly Express journalist and editor John Whelan as the single candidate for the constituency.
Tullamore based Labour Councillor Sean O'Brien has claimed that the Party has blown the chance of winning a seat in Laois/Offaly as they have decided not to field a candidate in Offaly.
"We had a great chance to win a seat this time but the handling of the selection process by Head Office staff has been farcical. They have imposed a candidate on us and are not to put up any candidate in Offaly," stated Cllr O' Brien.
"The vast majority of the members in Laois/Offaly object to the selection of the imposed candidate, John Whelan, as they feel they had no say whatever in his selection and fell that he does not represent the values of Labour. The organisation and members in Laois/Offaly have been completely ignored and we have been hoodwinked by officials from Head Office. There was a concerted attempt to mislead the membership in relation to the selection process" continued Cllr O' Brien.
He said four candidates, himself, Cllr Pat Bowe, Jim O' Brien and Liam Dumpleton, were handed into Head Office by the time for close of nominations on Thursday last.
However when it came to the Selection Convention last Friday night the Chairman of the Convention refused to accept any of the nominations and "simply told the members present that they could not nominate any candidate other than John Whelan and worse still he told the members that they could not even speak at the convention.I asked the Chairman, Jack Wall TD if I was in the Soviet Union or Portlaoise!"
Cllr O'Brien said when he continued to refuse us the right to speak or nominate any other candidate they decided to walk out of the convention. "This really proved what a farcical set up it was and shows that John Whelan has no chance whatever of winning a seat. The genuine Labour people in Laois/Offaly want to vote Labour but we will not vote for John Whelan," concluded Cllr O' Brien.
Meanwhile things went more smoothly at the Fine Gael Laois/Offaly Selection Convention on Sunday. Three candidates were selected, sitting Deputy Charlie Flanagan in Laois and former Offaly County Councillor Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Offaly Cllr Liam Quinn in Offaly. The party HQ may or may not run another candidate in Laois, a decision left for another time.
Almost 1000 party members filled the venue where nine people had been nominated to contest the positions. Cllrs James Daly and John Moran along with party member Paddy Buggy lost out in Laois while Cllrs Molly Buckley and Nichola Hogan along with John Clendennen were unsuccessful in securing the party's nomination in Offaly.
Cllr Quinn said having lost over 3,000 South Offaly votes to North Tipperary it was vital that Fine Gael select a candidate in North Offaly to represent people in an area that is still a commuter belt.
This week also saw the announcement by Offaly Cllr Eddie Fitzpatrick that he would run as an Independent candidate.
With Sinn Fein's Brian Stanley and Independent John Leahy confirmed, as well as former Fianna Fail Laois Councillor Dick Miller considering running as an Independent, only Fianna Fail have yet to reveal their game plan.
Although sitting Deputies Sean Fleming, John Moloney and Taoiseach Brian Cowen have all confirmed they will run again, there is still no date set for the Fianna Fail selection convention with Edenderry's Cllr John Foley indicating that he seeking a nomination to run again also.