FG success will depend on the right candidate
THE forthcoming battle for the presidential nomination in Fine Gael could be the winning or losing of the election for the party.
There are high expectations that this will be the time when it finally wins a presidential election. But the ever-growing number of Fine Gael candidates poses a threat to the party's performance.
Since the withdrawal of former Taoiseach John Bruton, a free-for-all has developed with Pat Cox, Gay Mitchell and now Avril Doyle joining Mairead McGuinness in the ring.
Labour yesterday showed that it was possible to have a three-way contest and still emerge as a united party afterwards. The winner, Michael D Higgins, said afterwards that there was no need for a presidential campaign to be "dirty".
But there have been warning signs that Fine Gael's contest could descend into a political slugging match that will damage the eventual winner. One senior Fine Gael TD said last night that it had been a mistake for Mr Mitchell to have come up with his cutting insult about Fine Gael being Mr Cox's "fourth port of call".
But it is a sign of the passions that Mr Cox's entry into the race has aroused among true-blue Fine Gael supporters. And not all of them see Mr Mitchell as the answer either.
Ms Doyle's backers said last night that she had been urged to enter by party TDs who believed Mr Mitchell would not appeal to rural voters.
As a Dublin-born but Wexford based politician, she is hoping to gain support from urban and rural Fine Gael TDs. Then there is her relationship with Ms McGuinness, who ran alongside her in Ireland East in the 2004 European elections. Her supporters deny that there is any animosity there after that gruelling battle -- in which both women were elected.
But Fine Gael TDs like Joe McHugh in Donegal and Liam Twomey in Wexford said that the contest -- which will be decided on July 9 -- could work to the party's advantage.
Their belief is that it will energise the party and set the winner up for a strong run in the election later this year.