Wednesday 29 March 2017

Presidential hopeful Cox to join FG in bid for nomination

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

PAT Cox is to join Fine Gael in an attempt to secure the party's presidential election nomination, the Irish Independent has learned.

However, the former Progressive Democrat will face intense competition from MEP Mairead McGuinness to be the party's candidate.

Mr Cox, a former European Parliament president, has been in contact with senior Fine Gael figures about the prospects of being the party's nominee.

Fine Gael is also understood to have previously approached Mr Cox to run as a candidate in this year's general election, but he declined.

Mr Cox has now been told he will have to join Fine Gael to be the candidate and there will be no guarantee that he will beat Ms McGuinness for the nomination.

Indeed, he will be up against it as the Ireland East MEP remains the favourite, according to party insiders.

Given the party's current strength, Fine Gael's ultimate candidate will have a great chance of being elected President -- probably the best in the party's history.

The party will hold a selection convention next month, with TDs, senators, councillors and members of the party's ruling body all having a say.

"Pat Cox is going to join FG and seek the presidential nomination. He has carried out soundings with senior figures in the party," a senior party figure said.

"A number of intermediaries have been involved. There was a group of people outside the party in touch on his behalf.

"There was a meeting with FG officials in recent days. Now that John Bruton is no longer a candidate, he would like to be the Fine Gael candidate."

Mr Cox is expected to make an application to join the party in his Cork-city base in the coming weeks.

The former PD member will be admitted to a local Fine Gael branch in the Cork North-Central constituency.

Mr Cox has expressed an interest in being a candidate in the presidential election, but has not formally declared he will run -- either for a party or as an Independent.

But his best chance of success is as the Fine Gael candidate.

After the decisions this week by former Taoiseach John Bruton and Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly not to seek the FG nomination, the field has narrowed.

Fine Gael strategist Frank Flannery -- a key adviser of Taoiseach Enda Kenny -- is understood to have been involved in the consultations with Mr Cox's advisers.

The party will hold a presidential election selection convention at the end of the July.

Favourite

The weighted voting system sees 70pc of the votes going to TDs, senators and MEPs, 20pc to the councillors and 10pc to the executive council.

But Ms McGuinness remains the internal favourite to secure the nomination.

"Mairead will be contesting and she could beat him," the party figure said.

"He will have to join the party and campaign.

"And he seems to be prepared to do that.

"I think she'll possibly beat Cox. He had a chance to stand for Fine Gael in the general election and declined to do so.

"There might be a bit of resentment."

Irish Independent

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