Kenny remains neutral on candidate

 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has let it be known that he is not backing any particular candidate seeking the Fine Gael nomination for the presidential election.

Mr Kenny said yesterday he wanted “a candidate who will win”.

Speaking in Cork, he said: “Clearly the opportunity for Fine Gael here is stronger than it used to be – put it that way. And obviously the party and the units of the party will decide by vote who our chosen candidate will be. What I want is a candidate who will win.”

Sources at a very senior level in the party have confirmed Mr Kenny will remain neutral during the nomination process and not endorse any of the three expected candidates – MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Gay Mitchell and former president of the EU Parliament Pat Cox.

Mr Cox is expected to declare his interest in the nomination once his application for party membership is approved by the Fine Gael executive council this evening. The meeting will also set a date for the internal Fine Gael election.

Senior officials in the party, including its deputy director of elections Frank Flannery, have been the prime movers in encouraging Mr Cox to join the party.

Mr Mitchell’s decision to seek the nomination has been viewed by colleagues as a blocking move against Mr Cox, whom Mr Mitchell has claimed has scant association with the party.

Separately, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin look increasingly unlikely to field candidates in the election in October, according to senior sources in both parties.

The two main Opposition parties have deferred decisions on their respective strategies on the election until next month amid divided opinion on the merits of running candidates.

Senior members of both parties have argued against running their own candidate. Among some Fianna Fáil members there is a fear that the presidential election is too soon after the general election meltdown and the party should instead concentrate on rebuilding for the local elections in 2014. Another dissuasive factor, said a source, is the party does not have the funds to mount an effective campaign.

It would be the first time since 1938 (when Douglas Hyde became president in an uncontested election) that Fianna Fáil did not run a candidate.

The South MEP Brian Crowley met party leader Micheál Martin twice in recent months and argued strongly that his name should be allowed go forward as its official candidate.

Sinn Féin’s ard chomhairle met last Saturday and deferred a decision until July. A senior party representative said it was highly unlikely the party would run a candidate. A more likely scenario is that its 17 Oireachtas members would be allowed to support an Independent candidate, either as a bloc or by free vote.

If both parties decline to field candidates the main beneficiaries may be Independent candidates, particularly the chief executive of the Special Olympics in Ireland Mary Davis and the New York-based publisher and journalist Niall O’Dowd.

Mr O’Dowd will decide whether he will stand by the end of June.

None of the candidates, including Mr O’Dowd, wish to be overly-associated with any party. Mr O’Dowd will make his pitch on the basis that he can attract support from a mix of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Independent TDs and Senators.

The Independent TCD candidate David Norris, who has the support of at least 12 TDs, could also benefit in that scenario.

Ms Davis, Mr Norris, and entrepreneur Sean Gallagher have been primarily focusing on winning the support of local authorities. A candidate is only eligible to stand in the election if supported by 20 Oireachtas members or four local authorities.

Mr Norris addressed three councils yesterday – Carlow, Wexford and Waterford city – while Mr Gallagher addressed Leitrim County Council.

Ms Davis will begin addressing councils next week.

Councillors said they would wait until other candidates had addressed them before deciding.

By the end of July all are expected to address the 13 councils not controlled by Fine Gael, which has imposed a whip on councillors not to back any Independent candidates.