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Ross and Renua target 25 seats in next election

The Independent Alliance and Renua Ireland are targeting a minimum of 25 seats between them as they compete to hold the balance of power after the next election.

The Shane Ross-led alliance holds a significant advantage when it comes to likely candidates.

More than 50 councillors - possibly as many as 65 - attended a meeting in Tullamore yesterday, with Deputy Ross declaring: "We have embarked on a great adventure where we have explored the potential to widen the alliance of like-minded independent TDs."

The large attendance of councillors suggests the independent Alliance could be in a position to challenge Labour, in particular, for Seanad as well as Dail seats.

One of the founding members of the new alliance, Waterford TD John Halligan, told the Sunday Independent: "We believe we can be competitive in a minimum of 20 constituencies." Mr Halligan said: "Our objective is to run strong Independent candidates in every constituency."

While Mr Ross may be the highest profile name, the Michael Fitzmaurice 'Country and Western wing' of the alliance is hoping to provide the 20 seats to secure the balance of power.

Outside of Mr Fitzmaurice's own seat, the alliance has high expectations for neighbouring constituencies such as Galway East, where despite having a quota between them, Independents failed to secure a seat in 2011.

Independent Alliance TD Finian McGrath noted: "Should the Independent councillor Sean Canney run he will be a strong contender in that three-seat constituency."

With Fine Gael concerned for the safety of the Taoiseach's seat, the 'Mayo First' movement, who are holding a unique US-style primary hustings to select a candidate is also closely aligned to the Independent Alliance.

In Limerick the future intentions of the former Labour Senator James Heffernan, now Independent, who secured 8,000 votes in 2011, are being closely monitored.

The Sunday Independent has also learnt that Mr Ross has forged close links with the poll-topping Independent former Fianna Fail member, Emmett O'Brien in Limerick.

The Labour seat in Clare, held by Michael McNamara, is believed to be vulnerable in a constituency that has a tradition of electing maverick Independents.

The new movement, however, is split over the suggestion that a "pact of non-aggression" should occur where strong Independents such as Catherine Murphy, Thomas Pringle and Maureen O'Sullivan are already in situ.

Finian McGrath said: "I wouldn't like to see us running against sitting Independents. I would prefer to target constituencies where we have no Independent TDs."

Mr McGrath instead wants to target areas where "there are seats to be won" in Dublin North and Dublin South West and Galway East.

However, in the first sign of division within the new movement, other sources warned: "We have council poll-toppers knocking at the door across the country; we cannot tell them not to run in constituencies where Independents are running that are not aligned to us."

Though the Independent Alliance is ahead when it comes to candidate selection, Renua Ireland is not without hope, despite its complicated selection procedures.

With Lucinda Creighton, the party believes Dublin Bay North TD, Terence Flanagan has the resilience to surprise the 'experts'.

In Cork East, the Coalition seats are vulnerable to a challenge from the Renua Senator Paul Bradford, should he run.

Renua Deputy Leader Billy Timmins is also expected to be involved in a major struggle with the fellow Independent Stephen Donnelly. Having missed the Renua and Independent Alliance bandwagons, Mr Donnelly, who won the last seat in 2011, is believed to be "vulnerable".

Renua sources are also confident that Jonathan Irwin in Kildare South will win: "He is very close to the horsey set, is generally respected for his work and has been a breath of fresh air for us. John Leahy in Offaly is also strong."

Sunday Independent