SENATOR David Norris's hopes of making it into the presidential race were in serious doubt last night as some Fine Gael councillors moved to block him getting on the ballot paper.
he Independent candidate suffered a shock setback when one of the councils expected to back him decided not to support his candidacy.
The single vote defeat at South Dublin County Council was sealed when six Fine Gael councillors voted against him. Taoiseach Enda Kenny had indicated last week his councillors would be abstaining from any votes on nominating Independent presidential candidates.
Mr Norris currently has the support of two councils but needs to secure two more from the four considering his nomination before tomorrow's noon deadline.
Rival Independent Dana Rosemary Scallon also has the support of two councils but is in a stronger position. She is expected to reach at least four by close of nominations.
There is now concern in Mr Norris's camp that Fine Gael councillors could block the motions supporting him.
Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan, who is Gay Mitchell's director of elections, said the only direct instruction to party councillors had been not to vote for any other candidate.
"Fine Gael councillors are on message to support and promote Gay Mitchell. There shouldn't be any other consideration," he said.
Mr Flanagan said Fine Gael councillors were free to abstain or to vote against candidates if they wished to.
After the South Dublin vote, an upbeat Mr Norris remained confident of getting another two local authorities on board.
"It was very close, I wish the one vote had gone the other way but that's local democracy," he said. "There will be another day. I believe I will get enough to get in."
Laois County Council supported his candidacy yesterday, adding to the support of Fingal County Council. But the result in South Dublin has raised doubts about votes today in Waterford City, Dublin City and especially Cork County, which is dominated by Fine Gael.
Council sources last night said some party councillors could vote against Mr Norris. "A lot of our lads would be very conservative," one Cork FG councillor said.
There are even question marks over whether the motion to nominate Mr Norris will be heard in Cork. Independent councillor David Boyle, who is proposing the motion, last night insisted he had a seconder for today's meeting -- but wouldn't reveal the name.
If there is no seconder, the motion cannot be put. Mr Boyle said that everything depended on how Fine Gael voted, adding: "After looking at South Dublin, it's all up in the air."
Similar doubts hang over a vote for Mr Norris in Kilkenny, due to take place tomorrow morning. Green Party councillor Malcolm Noonan last night conceded he doesn't yet have a seconder for his motion to nominate Mr Norris.
"I had hoped to have one by now but I'll keep making calls," Mr Noonan said. "If I don't have a seconder, then it will be gone."
In Waterford, Mr Norris's proposer, Independent councillor Mary Roche, said she was still confident he would get their support, but added: "I wouldn't put my house on it, what happened in South Dublin has thrown people."
There are 12 Fine Gael members on the 52-member Dublin City Council and FG council leader Mary O'Shea said that the "majority" were in favour of abstaining.
"I wouldn't be so presumptuous to say that all 12 are going to do that because I know there will be one or two who are not comfortable with that," she said.
Dana was backed by Carlow and Roscommon yesterday, and is expected to add some, if not all, of Donegal, Offaly, Cavan, Westmeath, Longford and Kildare by close of nominations.