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A Labour source says the party was 'caught on the back foot' by FG's date for the Meath East by-election. Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland
Meath East

Labour 'caught on the back foot' by FG on Meath East by-election date has learned that Labour didn’t plan to pick its Meath East candidate for another fortnight – after the new deadline.

IT HAS EMERGED that the Labour Party was not due to hold a convention to choose its candidate in the Meath East by-election until the end of March – and that the party may have not have expected the ballot to be called this week.

The writ ordering the by-election – to fill the Dáil seat left vacant by the death of Shane McEntee – was moved in the Dáil on Tuesday of this week, with polling set for Wednesday March 27. has learned, however, that senior figures within the Labour ranks had not expected the election to be held for another month – and that Fine Gael may have stolen a march on its coalition rival by calling the vote without Labour having chosen a candidate.

This website understands that a selection convention to choose the party candidate was, as recently as last week, pencilled in for March 21 – just days before the election is now due to be held.

A Labour spokesman said this evening that while a date for a convention had not been confirmed, the process of selecting a candidate “got underway last week” and that a selection convention would have been held “in the next two or three weeks”.

However, the early date for the election means that candidates must have nomination papers filed by next Friday, March 15 – well before the prospective dates Labour had considered to choose a candidate.

Source: Labour ‘kept in the dark’

While Fine Gael had also yet to formally identify its candidate when the date of the by-election was announced on Tuesday, the probability that Shane McEntee’s daughter Helen had agreed to run may have given the senior government partner enough impetus to immediately set the date.

FG is to formally select its candidate at a behind-closed-doors event in Kells this evening, but as reported earlier this week, other prospective FG candidates have agreed to stand aside so that Helen McEntee might replicate her father’s by-election win of 2005.

A Labour source said it was “pretty obvious” that Labour were “kept in the dark” about the possibility of the by-election being called.

“Fine Gael acted unilaterally about this,” the source said.

It’s a pattern of FG doing their own thing – there’s no payback. Labour people are starting to say that Fianna Fáil wouldn’t have done it to us.

Prospective Labour candidates were asked to declare their interest with the party headquarters by 5pm today, with a formal convention to be held tomorrow night in Ashbourne.

Labour has two county councillors within the Meath East area, Eoin Holmes and Niamh McGowan. McGowan yesterday confirmed she would not be running, meaning Holmes – who topped the poll in the Slane area in the council elections in 2009 – is the most obvious contender.

Fianna Fáil will run Senator Thomas Byrne, who came fourth in the three-seater area in 2011, while Sinn Féín is running political advisor Darren O’Rourke.

Other confirmed candidates include the Green Party’s Seán Ó Buachalla, Seamus McDonagh of the Workers’ Party, and Ben Gilroy of the Direct Democracy Ireland group.

Read: McEntee’s daughter set to be confirmed as Fine Gael candidate in Meath East

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