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I'll back Gay if he runs for president -- FF's Fleming

A senior Fianna Fail TD has publicly backed Gay Byrne for president.

The veteran broadcaster has indicated that he was open to mounting a challenge for the Aras and it now appears that members of Fianna Fail are keen to persuade Mr Byrne (77) to run as their candidate.

The party's spokesman on public expenditure and reform Sean Fleming has today given his public backing to the former Late Late show host.

"The two Government parties have nominated their candidate but nobody has been nominated by the Opposition parties and Independents," he said

"There is great goodwill towards Gay and I believe a majority of people would be very comfortable with him as president," he added.

Deputy Fleming emphasised that there are 75 Oireachtas members outside of the two government parties.

He said Mr Byrne could quite easily garner the support of 20 TDs and senators and "if that happened we might not feel inclined to run against him".

The NRA chief is among a raft of well-known personalities to have been linked with the Aras in recent days, along with Micheal O Muircheartaigh and Dana Rosemary Scallon.

There now appears to be a tussle within Fianna Fail as to whether to select a party figure or a celebrity candidate.

Party sources have told the Herald that an "appetite" exists among members to field an outsider.

"The Fianna Fail brand is still toxic and perhaps someone different will help to regenerate the party," one source said.

Former deputy leader Mary Hanafin is the latest party figure to be linked to the Presidency, along with MEP Brian Crowley and current deputy leader Eamon O'Cuiv. Foreign Affairs spokesperson Sean O'Fearghail confirmed that Ms Hanafin's name was under consideration by a party sub-committee.

"We haven't been formally notified of her intention to run, but her name has been mentioned as a possible candidate," he said.

She was unavailable for comment when contacted by the Herald today.

Mr Byrne left the door open for running when questioned this weekend, stating that if he was offered a nomination he would have to give it "serious consideration".

"If somebody can convince me that the mass of the Irish people are clamouring for Gay to be president, I would have to listen to the clamour."

He added that the role involved "a huge disruption to someone's life" and that "until somebody can convince me that there is some significance in what is going on, I tend to walk away from it".

Mr Byrne topped a 4FM opinion poll last week, despite him not even being mentioned as a candidate.

See Andrew Lynch, p14