Mitchell to decide on bid for presidency this week
ANOTHER potential contender for the presidency emerged last night as Dublin MEP Gay Mitchell said he is considering putting his name forward for the Fine Gael nomination.
Mr Mitchell told the Irish Independent he had been approached by a range of TDs, senators and party officials asking him to consider running for the Aras.
Although he ruled out a run just six months ago, he said many people had approached him since former Taoiseach John Bruton ruled himself out of the race two weeks ago.
"I was struck by the number and calibre of people who came to me asking me to consider it again," Mr Mitchell said last night. "I said I would consider it, but it won't be a drawn-out process -- I will make a decision by the end of the week.
"It hasn't just been one or two. A lot of people in the parliamentary party have approached me and there's been quite a range of people, young and old, and from outside Dublin."
Mr Mitchell is due to return to the European Parliament in Strasbourg today, and he will make a final decision on a presidency bid on Thursday or Friday.
Sources in Fine Gael said Mr Bruton's withdrawal from the race concentrated minds in the party. Some are reluctant to back Mr Mitchell's fellow MEP Mairead McGuinness or Pat Cox, who is also expected to seek the FG nomination.
A portion of the party are not supportive of Ms McGuinness because of the role she played in last year's botched heave against Enda Kenny.
There is also a feeling that Mr Cox, a former member of the Progressive Democrats who has yet to join Fine Gael, should not be given the backing of the party when it has never been higher in the polls.
"Why should we give him the platform of the party?" one TD asked. "He's being pushed by HQ."
Mr Mitchell (59) was TD for Dublin South-Central for 26 years between 1981 and 2007 and was defeated by Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Fine Gael leadership contest in 2002.
Meanwhile, Labour stalwart Michael D Higgins remains the firm favourite to win that party's presidential nomination at the end of next week.
Mr Higgins has a comfortable lead among the TDs, senators, MEPs and party officials who decide the outcome, according to a survey carried out by the Irish Independent.
Out of those declaring their hands, Mr Higgins had more than a two-to-one lead over nearest rival Fergus Finlay, with former senator Kathleen O'Meara lagging well behind.
The final decision will be made by a combined meeting of party's executive board and the parliamentary party on June 19.
The Irish Independent carried out a survey of the total electorate of 63.
Of the 37 who responded, Mr Higgins beat Mr Finlay by more than a two-to-one margin, already clocking up the support of 18 people.
Only seven said they would support Mr Finlay, and just one is so far rowing in behind former senator Kathleen O'Meara. A further 11 said they had yet to make their minds up, or did not want to reveal their choices in advance of the vote.
Meanwhile, the three Independent candidates for the presidency have all vowed to fight for the support of four county councils to get into the election proper.
David Norris, Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher are all set to embark on a tour of local authorities around the country in the coming weeks.
There are 17 councils really in play between the three candidates who have declared so far, since they have sizeable chunks of Labour, Fianna Fail and Independent councillors.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore have -- unlike Fine Gael -- given their councillors a free hand to support whoever they want.