Presidential battle 'won't tear FG apart'
FINE Gael presidential hopeful Gay Mitchell last night insisted the party would not be torn apart by the entry of former MEP Avril Doyle into the race.
Her plan to join the contest today means there will now be four Fine Gael candidates battling it out for the party's nomination.
Mr Mitchell played down fears in the party that a bitter internal contest would damage the eventual winner's chances of reaching Aras an Uachtarain.
"One of us is going to win the nomination and we'll all get behind that candidate. There's no potential of any division or anything of that kind. Let's have it as good-natured as possible," he said.
Mr Mitchell revealed he had been engaging in a "little bit of banter" with Ms Doyle about their forthcoming battle at last weekend's reception in Dublin for recently married Fine Gael couple Junior Minister Lucinda Creighton and Senator Paul Bradford.
"We've a very small electorate to talk to and they're all politicians, they all know the score. There's no need for any of us to be getting upset or anything of that kind," he said.
He will be competing with Ms Doyle, fellow MEP Mairead McGuinness and former European Parliament president Pat Cox for the votes of around 600-plus Fine Gael TDs, senators, MEPs, councillors and national executive members.
Meanwhile, businessman Sean Gallagher, a star of RTE's 'Dragons' Den', got the backing of Longford County Council last night in his race for the Presidency.
Mr Gallagher will need the backing of three more local authorities to enter the presidential race.
A spokesman said he was "delighted" with the backing of Longford County Council and was hopeful of securing the support of Leitrim County Council and others in the weeks ahead.
But the news is a blow for Senator David Norris, who had been hoping to get the support of Longford County Council following his earlier success in getting the backing of Fingal County Council.
Although there will be four Fine Gael candidates, there was still no sign of a contest in Fianna Fail. Fianna Fail Galway West TD Eamon O Cuiv, a grandson of former President Eamon de Valera, refused to be drawn on the possibility of becoming his party's candidate.
"There's time enough for all these things. I'm kind of busy with day-to-day work," he said.
Sinn Fein has given its party councillors permission to support the nomination of presidential candidates who will back presidential voting rights for Irish citizens in the North.
Mr Cox, who entered the race last week, was meeting Fine Gael electors in Cork yesterday. A spokeswoman said his campaign was "going well" and extended his best wishes to Ms Doyle.
Mr Cox got the backing of Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor yesterday.
But last night Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton said he was not going to comment until he saw the full field of candidates. "I'm a wily old critter," he added.