Cox, Mitchell show strengths
PAT Cox was strongest and Gay Mitchell most passionate, as both put in commanding performances at the Fine Gael Presidential debate yesterday.
Ahead of the selection convention in a week's time, Mairead McGuinness remains the frontrunner, but she was considered to be poor in her speech to the party's TDs and senators.
But Avril Doyle's campaign is floundering after she definitely failed to strike the right chord at the special parliamentary party meeting.
The meeting at Leinster House was attended by about half the members of the party. The four candidates each had a speech prepared, with Ms McGuinness and Ms Doyle reading from a script.
Last night, a TD said the party representatives waiting for direction from the leadership on which candidate to back were still none the wiser.
"I think it's still to play for. It might have swayed a few. They're a little bit like the pilgrims in Medjugorje still looking at the sky for a sign," the TD said.
Mr Cox edged it ahead of Mr Mitchell with an impressive display to his new party colleagues. The former Fianna Fail and PD member said it was a privilege to address the Fine Gael TDs and senators, and seemed to press all the right buttons as he also spoke of his term as European Parliament president.
"He carried it well. He did well today but has he the numbers?" a TD asked.
Mr Mitchell pointed to his status as a Dublin-based candidate. He warned the capital would be a Labour Party heartland if it didn't have a Dublin candidate.
The Dublin MEP also placed great emphasis on his record of 11 straight election victories at Dail, council and European level. Departing from his script, he showed a lot of passion.
"Gay was Gay, he put himself back in the race," a TD said.
Ms McGuinness relied on a folksy speech, throwing in anecdotes and telling of a woman from the west of Ireland lighting a candle for her. She also told how she was involved in politics for just seven years. "I think she could have been better," a party member said.
Ms Doyle failed to ignite her campaign, and her concentration on her pedigree in the party was considered a mistake as it meant little to the new TDs. "Avril didn't lift it at all," a TD said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny again gave no indication who he was supporting. Environment Minister Phil Hogan said he would not express a preference.
After the meeting, Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Charlie Flanagan said the party was "extremely fortunate" to have the choice of such high-calibre candidates.
Meanwhile, presidential hopeful and Special Olympics chief Mary Davis last night got her first nomination from a council when she beat Dragons' Den star Sean Gallagher in his home county of Louth.
Ms Davis secured the backing of 15 councillors, with Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail blocs voting for her, along with a number of Independents.