Former Fine Gael minister of state John Perry will attempt to make his political comeback this week as he contests what is certain to be one of the most closely watched party conventions ahead of the next general election.
The former Sligo-Leitrim TD insisted at the weekend that his decision to mount a legal challenge against the party after he was not selected as Fine Gael candidate for the constituency at the 2016 general election was now "water under the bridge" and said he believed people respected him "for standing firm" at the time.
He is one of nine candidates seeking the party nomination in a constituency where delegates and the national executive will be mindful of the furore after Mr Perry was not selected in 2015. He subsequently told the High Court that the convention was fundamentally flawed, unlawful and involved serious irregularities.
Mr Perry was added to the ticket in 2016 after reaching a settlement with the party.
Delegates attending Thursday's convention have been warned that nobody will be allowed to vote until they produce a membership card, or both photo ID and proof of address
A TD for 19 years until 2016, he said he was “looking forward to the challenge” and believed that, far from damaging his prospects, his decision to take on the party in 2015 had shown that he was willing to stand up for what was right. “A lot of cover-ups in the State went unnoticed because people did not challenge them,” said the former minister.
Delegates attending Thursday’s convention in the Clayton hotel Sligo have been warned that nobody will be allowed to vote until they produce a membership card, or both photo ID and proof of address, with officials keen to ensure there will be no controversy this time.
The decision of sitting TD Tony McLoughlin not to stand in the next election has left the field wide open, with most observers predicting that headquarters will opt for a two-candidate strategy and may instruct delegates to choose one each from Sligo and Leitrim.
But the constituency now includes a large section of north Roscommon, including the Boyle base of Senator Frank Feighan, following a recommendation of the Constituency Commission last year. The former TD is also seeking the nomination on Thursday night. He opted not to run in Roscommon-Galway in the last general election following what he described as a campaign of vilification over the Roscommon hospital issue.
Much of the convention speculation is focusing on Leitrim-based former TD and Senator Gerry Reynolds and Sligo native Noel Merrick, who has been chairman of the constituency executive for seven years. The two are regarded locally as favourites. Mr Reynolds topped the poll when he sought the nomination in 2015 and came within 400 votes of taking the final seat, losing out to Fianna Fail's Eamon Scanlon. Mr Merrick, a native of south Sligo, lives in Sligo town and is expected to win support from rural and urban delegates. He was director of elections in Sligo-Leitrim in 2011, when John Perry topped the poll and was elected alongside Tony McLoughlin.
Former senator Michael Comiskey from Leitrim is expected to poll well, while the performance of Sligo-based solicitor Sinéad Maguire, the only woman in the race, will also be closely watched.
The party’s executive council is due to meet on Wednesday night when a decision on strategy for the convention will be finalised.
There are 1,099 delegates who are entitled to vote, but because it is the holiday period, Fine Gael’s regional organiser Enda McGloin predicted that turnout on the night may be between 700 and 750.
Other candidates seeking a place on the ticket include Leitrim farmer Eddie Mitchell, who was prominent in the successful anti-fracking campaign as a leader of the Love Leitrim group; former mayor of Sligo Cllr Hubert Keaney; and Blaine Gaffney, parliamentary assistant to Deputy Tony McLoughlin.