Wednesday 12 December 2018

Presidential fight is getting crowded in Fine Gael ranks

THE race for the Aras is becoming increasingly crowded, with speculation mounting that more politicians could seek the Fine Gael nomination.

Four heavy-hitters have already put their names forward for the party's selection convention, but more could yet emerge from the woodwork.

Avril Doyle surprised many by throwing her hat into the ring at the weekend.

However, Labour has settled on Michael D Higgins as their candidate after he saw off a challenge from Fergus Finlay and Kathleen O'Meara.

Higgins received 37 votes, compared with 18 for former Labour adviser Finlay and seven for former senator O'Meara.

Fine Gael will not select its candidate until next month but already the fight between Pat Cox, Mairead McGuinness and Gay Mitchell is intense.

Ms Doyle's addition to the ticket has now thrown the race wide open.

Party sources say the situation is becoming increasingly confused, and members are growing perplexed by the range of possible candidates.

Fine Gael TD for Wexford Dr Liam Twomey, a supporter of former MEP Doyle, said she had come under grassroots and party pressure to run.

She will issue a press statement when she has gauged her level of support, but other party sources say that if Doyle officially enters the race, it could split the traditional Fine Gael vote that would normally go to Dublin MEP Gay Mitchell.

If Doyle and Mitchell get involved in such a tussle, it could pave the way for Cox to act as a compromise candidate.

The Fine Gael convention meets on July 9.

Fianna Fail is keeping its cards close to its chest on the presidential race, saying it will discuss strategy in the coming weeks, but one person in talks with the party is founder of the Irish Voice newspaper in New York, Niall O'Dowd.

Entry to the presidential election is dependent on each candidate getting the backing of 20 TDs or the members of four local authorities. O'Dowd flew in from New York last night to meet with Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, who also haven't selected a candidate yet.

David Norris is still waiting to hear whether he has the backing of enough local authorities to get his name on the ballot.

See Page 15

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