A political dogfight has erupted within Fine Gael with two party powerhouses in South Tipperary locked in a bitter battle.
Tension is mounting in the party ranks in advance of a vote that will decide if Paudie Ahearn, a brother of Senator Garret Ahearn, or John Fitzgerald, a brother of FG veteran Cllr. Michael Fitzgerald, will fill a vacancy on Clonmel Borough Council.
The vacancy was created by the election of sitting mayor Garret Ahearn to Seanad Eireann. Voting is set to take place from Friday in a postal vote involving ninety three members in four FG branches in Clonmel.
The filling of the vacancy has become a contentious issue within the party as vacancies have not been contested once a family member has signalled an intention to fill the seat.
Fine Gael's Joe Leahy, a former deputy mayor of Clonmel, was nominated to fill the vacancy but on Saturday pulled out of the contest.
Mr Leahy said that now that a member of Garret Ahearn's family had been nominated for the vacancy he would no longer put his name forward as it was a long established tradition in the party that if a family member wanted to fill the vacancy they would not be opposed.
"That's the way it has always been. It is a long standing tradition within Fine Gael and other parties. I will now support Paudie Ahearn because I think it is the right thing to do. I am now asking Fine Gael members to vote for Paudie Ahearn” said Mr Leahy, who was a member of the local authority from 2009 until 2014 when he was defeated in the local elections.
However John Fitzgerald's name is now in the ring and the Clonmel based auctioneer is continuing to canvass in his bid to fill the vacancy.
"I don't consider my candititure in any way involves a lack of respect for any political family.
Fine Gael is a Christian democratic party and engaging with democracy is not a bad thing" said Mr Fitzgerald.
Closing date for nominations was last Thursday at 5pm. Ballot papers are expected to arrive to the homes of the ninety three people with a vote on Friday and they will have until June 10 to make up their mind.
The votes will be counted at Hotel Minella on Thursday, June 11
Fine Gael members in four branches - Clonmel, Kilsheelan/Ballypatrick, Clerihan and Powerstown will decide the issue.
In recent years vacancies on local authorities created within Fine Gael were filled by family members on two occasions - Jimmy O'Brien filled the seat left vacant by his late father Michael, and Louise McLoughlin filled the seat left vacant by her late mother, Catherine McLoughlin.
When FG's Cllr. Johnny Fahey passed away, nobody from his family expressed an interest in filling the vacancy and Cllr. Mark Fitzgerald was nominated by the party after out voting Margaret Croke.
A Fine Gael member, who did not want to be named, said - "This is highly unusual. The vote is going to be very tight, there will only be a handful of votes in it"
In a statement to The Nationalist, John Fitzgerald said he did not agree that a time honoured tradition of not contesting a vacancy when a family member stands existed.
"I was delighted for Garret Ahearn when he was elected to Seanad Eireann which created this vacancy.
“I grew up in Golden and the late Theresa Ahearn was a neighbour of mine. I am not disrespecting any political family by going for this vacancy", insisted Mr Fitzgerald.
Mr. Fitzgerald , who is chairman of the FG Clonmel branch, said he was going forward to fill the vacancy as he would like the opportunity to represent the people of Clonmel.
"I work in the centre of Clonmel, I live in Clerihan, I come from a strong background in local government and could give a good service " said Mr Fitzgerald who is married to Anne and they have three children.
Mr. Paudie Ahearn is a forty one year old quantity surveyor who runs the family farm in Grange. He lives in Clerihan with his wife Laura and their two children.
He is the eldest of four sons of the late Deputy Theresa Ahearn and former county councillor Liam Ahearn and a brother of Senator Garret Ahearn.
Mr Ahearn has been involved in FG for a long number of years, during the time of his father's elections and membership of the county council, and was also actively involved in the Dail election and local election contested recently by his brother. He was nominated to fill the vacancy by the Clonmel branch of FG.
"If elected I hope to represent the people of my community with the same energy and commitment both Cllr Michael Murphy and Garret have done in the past year. Having a young family myself, I know the challenges people have with regard childcare costs. I am also very passionate about agriculture and recognise the significant employment it creates in rural communities like ours.
“I hope the members of Fine Gael in Clonmel support me in continuing the excellent work done by Michael and Garret”, he said.