A SNAP by-election to fill the Dail seat of the late junior minister Shane McEntee is on the cards.
Sources say a much earlier date than expected – with polling day possibly coming before the end of the month – is now under strong consideration. If the by-election in Meath East is to be held by the end of the month, the writ would have to be moved in the Dail in the coming days.
There must be a minimum of 18 days – excluding Sundays, public holidays, and Good Friday – between the writ being moved for a by-election and polling day itself, and a maximum of 25 days.
The Dail rises for Easter on March 28, but a definite by-election date has yet to be finalised. Under new laws brought in by the Coalition, the by-election must be held by the end of June, but it is expected to come before that.
The announcement of the new junior minister to replace Mr McEntee is also expected soon. Fine Gael is confident that Mr McEntee's daughter, Helen – who is in her mid-20s – will be its candidate, and the internet domain name helenmcentee.ie has been registered in recent days.
Ms McEntee attended a Fine Gael branch meeting in Nobber, Co Meath, last week, but the upcoming by-election was not discussed.
Others interested in the party's nomination include Kells-based councillor Eugene Cassidy, but Mr Cassidy says he will not stand in Ms McEntee's way if she is interested.
"Helen McEntee has not put her name forward but if she does I will not contest the convention," Mr Cassidy said.
"It is expected that she will, but it has not been confirmed. If she does not, I will put my name forward. I've been a councillor for eight years and I'm from north Meath, and we need a candidate from this area." It was thought a date of April 19 was being considered, but is understood it may now be much sooner.
A Fine Gael source said: "At this stage, I don't think we'll be waiting long for the names and dates to be confirmed." Another source said: "It's earlier than people expected."
Fianna Fail has already selected Senator Thomas Byrne as its candidate, and the contest is widely seen as two-horse race between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.
Labour has yet to hold its selection convention.
Sinn Fein has nominated Ashbourne-based councillor Darren O'Rourke, a parliamentary assistant to the party's health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain, and will be looking to see if its surge in the polls is reflected at the ballot box.