Sunday 15 December 2019

Cox emerges as dark horse in tightened race for FG nod

Pat Cox, right, with Phil Hogan yesterday
Pat Cox, right, with Phil Hogan yesterday

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

THE Fine Gael hierarchy is playing up the chances of Pat Cox or Mairead McGuinness winning the presidential election in an effort to block Gay Mitchell from becoming the party's candidate.

After Avril Doyle pulled out of the presidential race yesterday, Ms McGuinness, Mr Mitchell and Mr Cox are locked in a tight three-way battle for the place on the ticket.

Ms McGuinness's lead has been whittled back to leave her narrowly the favourite, with a late surge from Mr Mitchell, but Mr Cox is still very much the dark horse and thought to be gaining ground.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan posed for photographs with Mr Cox yesterday, but this was dismissed by sources close to the party strategist as "a chance encounter, which should not be interpreted as support for Mr Cox's campaign".

Several party sources said wavering TDs and senators are being contacted by senior Fine Gael figures telling them of a poll showing Mr Cox and Ms McGuinness performing better than Mr Mitchell.

The poll apparently shows Mr Cox and Ms McGuinness securing 22pc of the vote each, with Mr Mitchell behind them on 14pc. "The bottom line is Gay Mitchell and Avril Doyle can't win the presidency but Mairead McGuinness and Pat Cox can. The figures speak for themselves," a senior party source said.

The circulation of the poll results is viewed as an effort to damage Mr Mitchell.

"The turnips are being manured," a party TD said, in a disparaging description of his party colleagues.

A number of sources said party headquarters was "terrified" of the prospect of Mr Mitchell winning the nomination. "They want Cox and at this stage would be happy with Mairead. But they don't want Gay," a party TD said.

"Cox is climbing. But he was coming from an awful long way back. They are of the view he has the best prospect of winning," a senator said.

"Pat Cox has picked up a fair bit of momentum. My hunch at the moment is the silence of some people is because of how well Cox is doing," a neutral TD said.

After performing poorly, Ms Doyle withdrew from the race. She said she was "unlikely to secure the nomination not withstanding the fact that I retain the support of a sizeable number of the parliamentary party, the National Executive and the councillors nationwide".

Irish Independent

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