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Lise Hand: Jack Bauer-esque effort needed from Norris in coming 24 hours

EVEn Jack Bauer would've been whimpering for his Ma after a day like yesterday. Being granted 24 hours for the task of saving the planet is a mere bagatelle compared to the 72-hour challenge of securing a place on the starting-line of the Aras Derby.

David Norris probably had never known a Manic Monday like it. It had more ups and downs than the stockmarket after a Merkel-Sarkozy press conference.

There was drama, suspense and a shock twist in the plot right at the end. If the senator had been obliged to defuse a nuclear bomb using nothing more than a copy of 'Ulysses', nobody would've been surprised.

And the day had begun so swimmingly. David had picked himself off the canvas after South Tipp TD Mattie McGrath delivered a knock-out punch on Sunday evening to his hopes of an Oireachtas nomination and turned up unbowed at Laois county council in Portlaoise, well before the 11am start to the first of a trio of powwows on his itinerary yesterday.

His mission was formidable but not impossible -- to snaffle four council nominations before the High Noon Wednesday deadline when nominations for the presidency close.

And he had the inside track on his rival Dana when it came to Laois, for it turns out that the senator is a local lad -- his kin hail from Mountrath, and as a nod to his roots he was Grand Marshall of the St Patrick's Day parade in Portlaoise last March.

"The connection with the county is important," agreed Fianna Fail councillor Jerry Lodge before the 25-strong council cast their vote. And this was backed up by David's proposer, former Lord Mayor of Portlaoise Rotimi Adebari, who declared: "Under the last administration we had a Taoiseach from a neighbouring county, there is no reason why we cannot have the president of this country this time around to come from our own county."

The vote was called as David sat quietly at the back of the room. He won by seven votes to four, with the rest abstaining -- not a resounding endorsement, but the 12 Fine Gael members all abstained (under the eagle eye of party chairman and local TD Charlie Flanagan).

Afterwards, a chuffed David thanked them all profusely. "This is democracy in action," he proclaimed. "But can I tell you this from the heart, this means more to me than anything. This is the proudest moment of my life," he added fervently.

One down, two to go.

It was looking fairly good for his second port-of-call, Carlow. The dogs on the town street had been whispering that it was going to be thisclose [SIC], but that David could probably squeak through.

Once again it was a full house in a council chamber by the 1pm vote -- there were reporters and photographers and TV cameras to beat the band. And, once again, David slipped quietly into a seat -- of his rival Dana there was no sign.

The senator was proposed in a stirring speech by Labour's William Paton. "There is a democratic deficit in national politics when such a candidate cannot obtain the nomination of 19 other Oireachtas members," he exhorted his colleagues.

Alas, to no avail. The vote was deadlocked at 5-5, and it was up to the Cathaoirleach to cast the deciding ballot. The man in the hot-seat, Fine Gael's Thomas Kinsella, looked as if he would rather be anywhere else at that moment. This was 'The X-Factor', and he was about to do a Simon Cowell. "I will be voting against the nomination," he all-but muttered. A long, long silence followed.

Outside, David put on a brave face. "It was an exercise in local democracy," he said philosophically, as back in the chamber, democracy promptly handed the nomination to Dana in a 7-0 vote.

Uh-oh. Tick-tock. David hared back to the capital, to Dublin South County Council for a 5.15pm vote. Sure they were Dubs like himself (except for the Laois bit). This should make it a hat-trick (having already got the nod from Fingal) before supper.

But oh woe! It all unexpectedly went pear shaped when the full complement of 26 councillors called out their votes. It became clear that these Fine Gael councillors thought that abstaining was for cissies, and six of the eight voted against the Norris motion, along with four from Labour, one Sinn Fein and one Independent councillor.

There was a bit of head scratching as the numbers were carefully checked. Twelve against, 11 for. The motion bit the dust.

This was a shocker. The FF councillors (all four had voted 'Yes') were dizzy from inhaling the unfamiliar air up on the high moral ground. "The Fine Gael group have dealt a severe blow to Senator Norris's campaign hopes," declared John LaHarte.

"It's an attempt by Fine Gael whose candidate is performing poorly to frustrate any competition from rivals. I think it was a frustration of the democratic process," chimed in Eamon Walsh.

Senator Norris sped out of the chamber as if he did indeed have a bomb to dismantle.

And so the suspense continues for a final 24 hours. Cork county, Waterford and Dublin City can decide his fate today. Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Irish Independent