Fine Gael is unlikely to divide up the vast Midlands- North-West constituency between its two candidates in the European election, placing sitting MEP Mairéad McGuinness at a clear advantage over fellow MEP Jim Higgins.
Ms McGuinness, who is based in Co Meath, enjoys a considerably higher national profile than former Mayo TD Mr Higgins, meaning he will have to work harder to develop support outside his western base.
The constituency comprises Cavan, Donegal, Galway, Kildare, Laois, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and Westmeath.
Mr Higgins has come under renewed pressure within Fine Gael to stand back in favour of Mayo TD John O'Mahony, whose strong GAA connections would provide a solid campaigning platform. However, Mr Higgins remains insistent that he will contest the seat. For his part, Mr O'Mahony will not run if Mr Higgins runs as well. In spite of anxiety within Fine Gael that he could lose his seat, Mr Higgins is not for turning. "There never was any pressure – good, bad or indifferent," he said yesterday.
He has a meeting in Dublin next Monday with party chiefs to discuss electoral strategy.
It is understood, however, that there will be no constituency divide and that both Mr Higgins and Ms McGuinness will be expected to campaign throughout Midlands-North- West.
Although the constituency is considered too large to be canvassed in its entirety by any one candidate, Ms McGuinness has already started campaigning in Donegal and Sligo, which are outside her traditional base.
The convention to settle on the Midlands-North-West candidates has been set for February 9th in Athlone. The convention for the Fine Gael candidates in the South constituency will be on February 16th in Clonmel. The ticket is likely to comprise Co Kerry-based MEP Seán Kelly and Co Kilkenny-based former IFA president John Bryan, with the nomination of Cork-based senator Deirdre Clune a possibility as well.
Minister of State for Finance Brian Hayes will decide by the end of this month if he will contest the election for Fine Gael in Dublin. The absence of any other big-name candidate means Mr Hayes is increasingly likely to run. The convention has been set for February 18th in Dublin.
Seeking the nomination
Fianna Fáil's Dublin convention is on January 26th, with Dublin councillor Mary Fitzpatrick seeking the nomination in contention with gay rights activist Tiernan Brady and former senator Geraldine Feeney. Also in question is whether senator Thomas Byrne joins Pat "the Cope" Gallagher on the ticket in Midlands-North-West. Fianna Fáil research officer Adrian O'Higgins and former senator Seán Connick may run alongside MEP Brian Crowley in South.
Labour has not yet set dates for its conventions. With MEP Emer Costello to run in Dublin, Senator John Gilroy may run alongside MEP Phil Prendergast in South. Senator Lorraine Higgins is the likely candidate in Midlands-North-West.