FG is not parachuting candidate, says Shatter


MINISTER FOR Justice Alan Shatter has denied that Pat Cox is being “parachuted” into Fine Gael to take the nomination for the presidential election.

“I don’t think anyone is being parachuted in,” Mr Shatter told reporters on the fringes of an EU meeting in Luxembourg. “From what I know of it he’s expressed an interest in being a Fine Gael candidate and he’s applying to join.”

Mr Shatter praised MEP Gay Mitchell, who announced yesterday he was seeking a nomination, but did not say whether he would support his campaign.

Mr Cox, a former MEP and chairman of the European Parliament who was once a member of the Progressive Democrats, declined to comment in advance of a decision by Fine Gael next Tuesday on his application.

Reacting to Mr Mitchell’s entry into the race, MEP Mairéad McGuinness said she was as determined as ever to secure the nomination and had written to all the party’s representatives in support of her campaign.

Of a number of Fine Gael representatives contacted yesterday, the only one to go on the record in support of a candidate was Dublin South-Central TD Catherine Byrne. She said she would most likely support Mr Mitchell, who is a former constituency running mate.

“We’ve had our differences over the years but he’s a good politician, he’s well respected and he has served his time,” she said.

A majority of those contacted, speaking privately, expressed support for Mr Mitchell.

John Bruton’s decision not to seek the nomination had left the party hierarchy “in a quandary”, according to one influential internal figure. “Headquarters went after Cox after Bruton went off the pitch. But now that Mitchell is in, he’s seen as the only genuine Fine Gael candidate. It’s hard to see the party going against him.”

One Minister of State said he would accept either Mr Mitchell or Ms McGuinness, but he “wouldn’t take” Mr Cox: “I’m sick of people being brought into Fine Gael on parachutes. We’ve plenty of good candidates of our own.”

A younger Dublin TD said he would be supporting Mr Mitchell. While he had been getting a lot of e-mails from constituents urging him to back Mr Cox, he said he feared the former PD would be “too independent”.

“We want a president who will work with the Government, not one who might go off message,” he said.

However, a Dublin Senator said Mr Cox was best placed to win the election. “I couldn’t see Gay doing the business in a national election. A betting man would put money on Cox and he has standing in Europe, which we’ll need in the years to come.”

About 650 people are eligible to vote in the selection convention to take place next month, with 70 per cent of the votes in the electoral college allocated to the parliamentary party (TDs, Senators and MEPs), 20 per cent to county councillors and 10 per cent to the 12 members of the executive council. Voting will be by secret ballot.

In his statement, Mr Mitchell adverted to his 26 years as a TD, and his roles as lord mayor of Dublin, minister for European affairs and MEP.

He said he believed in unity in diversity, “but not a diversity that includes only the politically correct”. With the centenary of the 1916 Rising approaching, Mr Mitchell said he wanted to be president of an Ireland that has “a true republican spirit”.

He said: “My life’s journey has taken me from the home of my widowed mother in Inchicore to the Dáil, the Mansion House, Iveagh House and Brussels. From the president’s study in the Áras, which I visited many times as Minister, the floodlights of CIE Works, where I worked as a boy, are visible as a clear landmark. If I am elected president this landmark shall be a daily reminder of where I came from and that my sworn duty is to serve the welfare of the people as well as to uphold the Constitution and the law.”