Naja Regan: legal letters

THE battle to secure local election nominations for Fine Gael in the party's heartland of Dun Laogh­aire could end up in the courts after a stormy convention meeting last Thursday night.

Sources at the meeting said "all hell broke loose" after an instruction from the Fine Gael executive council was read out that the three sitting councillors – former GAA county board chairman John Bailey, recent defector from the PDs, Mary Mitchell-O'Connor and Tom O'Higgins from the famous O'Higgins Fine Gael dynasty – were to be automatically selected as the only three candidates.

This left Naja Regan – daughter of senator Eugene Regan – off the ticket, despite the fact it is commonly accepted she would comfortably have won any vote at the convention.

It is understood legal letters had been exchanged the day prior to the convention between Regan's team and Fine Gael head office on the issue, after Regan had got wind of the directive from the executive council. Regan's team considered taking out an injunction before the convention took place.

This option was not pursued but leading constitutional expert Gerard Hogan advised that the directive was contrary to the Fine Gael rules and constitution because it denied the delegates any choice. However, the advice of a senior counsel obtained by Fine Gael's long-time solicitor Kevin O'Higgins – brother of Tom – was that the directive was legitimate and consistent with precedent.

Solicitors' letters had previously been exchanged between the two sides a number of weeks ago when it emerged the party intended to carry out the selection process by interview. Following this, Fine Gael decided to hold the convention.

However, after speeches from the four potential candidates at the convention on Thursday, guest chairman and Fine Gael frontbench spokesman Brian Hayes announced the executive council's directive that there would be no vote and the three sitting councillors would be selected.

There was an angry response with more than 20 delegates rising to make speeches condemning the move. "It was bare-knuckle stuff," said one delegate, arguing that Regan had been "shafted". Sources said the option of a legal challenge to the outcome by Regan was now "a distinct possibility".

However, Brian Hayes yesterday told the Sunday Tribune the directive was "consistent with the rules of the Fine Gael constitution". Any legal challenge would be "unwise", he said, adding that the party would "meet any challenge that comes".

Hayes said the party had made a "strategic decision" to go with the sitting councillors.