The Fianna Fail party has been plunged into a Presidential election crisis by veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne.

The 77-year-old’s decision to withdraw from the race to succeed Mary McAleese as President of Ireland has severe implications for Fianna Fail.

Leader Micheal Martin had openly backed Byrne’s bid to stand as an independent candidate and had pledged his party’s full support to the broadcaster.

Now Fianna Fail, all but wiped out in the General Election, must again decide if it is going to risk running a candidate of its own in the forthcoming Presidential poll.

Martin has appointed a sub-committee to decide if Fianna Fail should run a candidate and to discuss how the cash strapped party could fund any election campaign.

A decision will be made in early September according to party sources.
The Fianna Fail leadership has also thanked Byrne for his interest in the office of President.

A statement from the party said: “Gay Byrne has many fine qualities and would have made an excellent candidate. However we respect his personal decision not to stand in the Presidential election.

“In June, Fianna Fail made it very clear that we believe that potential candidates for the Presidency with substantial public support should not be prevented from standing because of the very restrictive nomination process.

“As was fully demonstrated in this week’s opinion poll, there was very wide public support for Gay Byrne’s potential candidacy.

“As to who the party will support, the process remains that a decision will be taken on this matter by the Parliamentary Party next month.”

Byrne’s departure leaves the Labor Party candidate Michael D Higgins as firm favorite to win the Presidential election.

Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell and independents Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher are the only other declared runners at this stage with Fianna Fail now under pressure to decide what it will do in the October election.

European Parliament deputy Brian Crowley and former Donegal deputy Mary Hanafin are both interested in running on a Fianna Fail ticket.

But the party’s former Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea is against the idea of a Fianna Fail candidate.

O’Dea said: “I remain strongly of the view that we should not run a candidate ourselves, but should support an outside candidate.

“It is still my opinion that Fianna Fail should concentrate all of its efforts, and resources, on mounting a formidable campaign in the next local elections, which are not that far away.”