South Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath will battle to retain his seat as an independent candidate in the forthcoming general election after deciding to walk out on a Fianna Fail party he was 'born into'.
The rebel TD made his announcement on Tuesday morning at his constituency office after handing a letter of resignation to his Newcastle cumman and informing FF headquarters of his decision.
"I had to draw a line in the sand," insisted Deputy McGrath when announcing his intention to fight the general election, now expected to take place on February 25, as an independent.
He explained that he had not been happy for a long time in the party and "we ran out of straws" and he had to take the decision to leave the party.
No longer a member of the Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party since June, when he voted against the government in the stag hunting bill, the outspoken critic of party leader Brian Cowen finally cut all ties with the party yesterday. He made his decision days in advance of the Fianna Fail selection convention for the General Election to be held on Saturday night.
It is expected that outgoing junior minister Martin Mansergh will be ratified at that convention. If the party decides to select two candidates, Mayor of Clonmel Siobhan Ambrose and former county councillor Andy Moloney will be among the contenders.
The two Fianna Fail TDs elected in 2007 will now go to battle for election in two different camps this time around as they seek election in the three seater constituency where Fine Gael (outgoing TD Deputy Tom Hayes and Cllr. Michael Murphy), Labour(Senator Phil Prendergast), The Greens(Paul McNally) and Sinn Fein (Cllr. Michael Browne) have already selected their candidates.
With the Fianna Fail convention scheduled for Saturday in Cashel, Deputy McGrath had to make up his mind this week.
He condemned the 'disastrous policies' of the Fianna Fail party, the lack and style of leadership displayed by Brian Cowen and his failure to engage with the public. Deputy McGrath said he had asked some of the contenders for the party leadership to move against Cowen in the last eighteen months and said there was such a thing as cabinet responsibility and "they all have to take the blame for the state we are in".
He said that Brian Cowen and others within the party should have had the honesty to admit mistakes had been made during the banking and economic crisis.
He said he had been born into Fianna Fail. He had been called a traitor since voting against the party and said he would have to talk to people who had supported him in the party to explain why he decided to go.
He had held meetings with supporters throughout the weekend but said he would not ask any of them to resign from the party.
The Newcastle deputy said he had 'stayed and tried' but had to leave and he expected the electorate to judge him on his track record.
Deputy McGrath said that since June he had 'not asked to be taken back into the Parliamentary Party and the party had not asked me back."
"I had to make the decision now. I was not going to go to the convention on Saturday and maybe be elected or not elected and I could have had to wait to be ratified," he said.
Deputy McGrath said he feels a sense of relief at having made his decision even though people within Fianna Fail would be 'annoyed and upset' with me.
He said he had been out on the ground and felt the anger the public were feeling "and rightly so" and said the public had been badly let down by Fianna Fail.
"People thought they could put Fianna Fail before the country. I have to sleep at night, I did the right thing in my heart and for the public," said Deputy McGrath.
Asked if he would rule out ever re-joining Fianna Fail, he said that if he was privileged enough to be re-elected he would see who were 'like minded with me'. He said that Fianna Fail had a lot of restructuring to do, a 'root and branch' review was needed to "find the soul of the party and what it always stood for".
At his press conference he hit out at Independent candidate Cllr. Seamus Healy, criticising his link to MEP Joe Higgins and a Left Alliance group.
He said that group's call for Corporate Tax would destroy South Tipperary and cost the area a lot of jobs.
"That would be a disaster for South Tipperary. That call on corporate Tax has sent shockwaves around all the boardrooms. You cannot be anti everything ," he said.