Saturday 20 January 2018

Fine Gael picks Helen McEntee to contest late father's Dail seat

Fionnan Sheahan and Fiach Kelly

FINE Gael will pick the daughter of late junior minister Shane McEntee tomorrow night as the party candidate in the by-election to fill his seat.

As revealed in Monday's Irish Independent, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has decided to call a snap by-election in Meath East.

Mr Kenny confirmed the date as Wednesday, March 27.

Mr McEntee's daughter, Helen, will be confirmed as party candidate in the next 24 hours with a selection convention to be held in Kells tomorrow.

It is not clear yet if the convention will be contested, but Ms McEntee will emerge as the candidate, regardless.

The by-election is seen as a straight fight between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.

Mr Kenny said the by-election would allow the people of Meath East to pick a replacement to "continue the work of Shane McEntee and build on his great legacy".

The announcement of the new junior minister to replace Mr McEntee is also expected soon.

Fine Gael TD Damien English remains the firm favourite to take that position, with an announcement possible during the by-election campaign.

Mr English's appointment would be a boost to the party's chances, as he is based in the neighbouring constituency of Meath West.

The much earlier date than expected is regarded as a strategic decision by Fine Gael in the wake of Mr McEntee's death before Christmas.

The party believes a brand new candidate has a better chance of success in a short, sharp campaign.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore will mark the second anniversary of the coalition today.

The two leaders will publish a progress report on the Programme for Government.

Mr Kenny decided on the Wednesday before the Easter weekend as the date for the by-election. Wednesday was picked as polling day to avoid the election crossing into the Easter Bank Holiday weekend.

The Meath East by-election will be the fourth to be held on a Wednesday in the past 20 years. Since 1992, there have been 19 by-elections with the polling day varying dramatically, as follows:

• Tuesday: 2

• Wednesday: 3

• Thursday: 8

• Friday: 5

• Saturday: 1

There must be at least 18 days – excluding Sundays, public holidays, and Good Friday – between the writ being moved for a by-election and polling day itself, and a maximum of 25 days. Under new laws brought in by the Coalition, the by-election must be held by the end of June.

Fine Gael became confident in recent weeks that Ms McEntee – aged in her mid-twenties – would be their candidate, and the internet domain name helenmcentee.ie was registered last week.

Ms McEntee attended a Fine Gael branch meeting in Nobber, Co Meath, last week, but the upcoming by-election was not discussed.

Fianna Fail has selected Senator Thomas Byrne as its candidate, and the contest is widely seen as two-horse race between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Labour has yet to hold its selection convention. Sinn Fein has nominated Ashbourne-based councillor Darren O'Rourke.

Irish Independent

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