Noonan to throw support behind Cox in Aras race
FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan is understood to be supporting Pat Cox in the increasingly divisive Fine Gael presidential race.
Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell got the first official endorsement from a cabinet minister yesterday when Justice Minister Alan Shatter revealed he was voting for him.
But Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan denied he was backing Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness just because he had signed her nomination papers.
And ahead of next Saturday's selection convention, former junior minister Avril Doyle claimed Mr Cox was trailing the other contenders.
Until now, members of the Cabinet were following the example of Taoiseach Enda Kenny in declining to say which of the four candidates they were supporting.
Mr Noonan signed Mr Cox's nomination papers and "doesn't have a problem" with his support being known, a source said.
He is said by supporters of Mr Cox and separate, independent, Fine Gael sources to be privately supporting the former European Parliament president.
The minister's spokesman said last week he did not wish to comment on who he would be supporting in the selection convention.
Following on from the endorsement of former Taoiseach John Bruton, Mr Mitchell notched up another high-profile supporter yesterday when Mr Shatter backed him.
The minister said he would support which ever one of the "four fantastic candidates" emerged from the selection convention next weekend in the actual election.
But Mr Shatter said Mr Mitchell had been a close friend and colleague of his for many years.
"I don't think it's any great secret I will be supporting Gay," he said.
Mr Shatter's move is likely to intensify pressure on his Cabinet colleagues to say who they are supporting.
Ms McGuinness named Mr Deenihan as an example of one of those in the party "who had offered their support and who had signed (her) nomination papers".
The Arts Minister was cited, along with junior minister Shane McEntee and the party's youngest TD Simon Harris.
But Mr Deenihan told the Irish Independent: "Mairead asked me to sign her nomination. I was happy to do so. . . I'd have done the same for the other candidates."
The minister said there had been an unofficial directive from Mr Kenny to stay out of contest and he was not saying who he was supporting.
"Enda, by his own actions, is staying totally neutral on it. I'm adopting the same attitude as the rest of the Cabinet," he said.