FINE Gael's desire to win the by-election in Meath has copperfastened Damien English's position as hot favourite to become a junior minister.
A by-election in Meath East is due to be held in the coming months and Fine Gael believes failing to promote Mr English – who is based in neighbouring Meath West – will threaten the party's chances of retaining the seat left vacant by junior minister Shane McEntee.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny is also thought to be keeping a spare seat in the Seanad open in case the party candidate doesn't win the by-election.
Fine Gael is hopeful a member of the family of the late junior minister Shane McEntee will run in the by-election to replace him, expected in late April or early May.
The speculation is surrounding Mr McEntee's daughter, Helen, as preferred candidate.
But the party is anxious not to force the family to make a decision. "The Fine Gael organisation in Meath are anxious a McEntee member will go," a senior party source said.
Mr English was the favourite from the off to replace Mr McEntee as a junior minister.
But Taoiseach Enda Kenny has delayed the appointment, leading to some party figures believing he was looking at a wider range of candidates, including Andrew Doyle, Bernard Durkan, Pat Breen, David Stanton and more.
Mr Kenny is being warned by party strategists to avoid antagonising voters in Meath by over-looking Mr English.
The by-election is in Meath East, while Mr English is based in Meath West.
Fine Gael elected four out six TDs in the two constituencies in the Royal County in the last general election.
"It's good politics. It wouldn't go down well if they brought it out of Meath," a party source said.
"With the by-election in Meath, the man in Navan [Mr English] is the favourite."
Fine Gael's best chance of winning the seat rests in having a McEntee family member on the ballot paper. Mr Kenny also has a spare Seanad seat, on foot of the resignation of Martin McAleese, as a consolation prize, as the party will need a long-term new candidate anyway in the north of the county – the party stronghold of former Taoiseach John Bruton.
Some party members figure he will leave the Seanad seat, which is a Taoiseach's nomination, open until after the event.
Fianna Fail senator Thomas Byrne is the early favourite to win the seat, before the full line-up is known.
Fianna Fail will be looking to prove their strong poll ratings of late in the by-election.
The latest poll at the weekend by Red C for the Sunday Business Post says Fine Gael is still the most popular political party at 28pc. But Fianna Fail resurgence sees it on 26pc, Independents are on 18pc, Sinn Féin is at 16pc and Labour is on 12pc.
With support for the coalition parties relatively steady, Fianna Fail's increase in support has come from Sinn Fein and Independents.