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Senators, rebel TD and Dublin Mayor in running for Mitchell's MEP seat

Former world champion runner Eamonn Coghlan is among the favourites to run for Fine Gael in Dublin in next year’s European elections but there are others in contention…

Gay's off, but who within Fine Gael is going to replace him?
Gay's off, but who within Fine Gael is going to replace him?
Image: Photocall Ireland

GAY MITCHELL’S DECISION to step down from the European Parliament means there will be an opening for Fine Gael to run a new candidate in the European elections next year.

Though we await the outcome of a redrawing of Ireland’s European Parliament constituencies in light of its number of MEPs being reduced from 12 to 11 Fine Gael will almost certainly run a candidate in Mitchell’s place.

So far vying for the role are senators Eamonn Coghlan and Catherine Noone, the party’s outspoken TD Peter Mathews and the current Lord Mayor of Dublin, Naoise Ó Muirí.

Eamonn Coghlan, a former Irish world champion athlete who joined Fine Gael last year having been appointed to the Seanad by Enda Kenny in 2011, has been reported as the early favourite for the role.

But a number of factors may count against him including his age. At 60 Coghlan is not exactly the young blood that Mitchell, 61, may have hoped would succeed him in Strasbourg.

The party leadership may also be concerned about his lack of a political track record. If Coghlan were to run (pardon the pun) next year it would be his first experience of an election.

His Seanad colleague Catherine Noone is another name who is understood to be definitely considering running for Mitchell’s seat.

She has youth, at age 36, and the fact that she is female as factors counting in her favour as Fine Gael looks to boost the number of women it runs in elections. But low name recognition may count against her.

Fine Gael’s rebel TD Peter Mathews, who has manouvered against the government in the past,  may also be interested depending on how he perceives his chances in the Dublin South constituency he currently occupies.

Redrawn as Dublin Rathdown for the next election, it will see its TD numbers reduced from five to three, and with three Fine Gael deputies – Alan Shatter and Olivia Mitchell are the others – already in the area it may be difficult for Mathews to be re-elected.

But as he is considered an independent Fine Gael TD among party insiders, Mathews would be unlikely to gain enough support at any selection convention to be the party’s candidate for Europe.

Finally, Fine Gael could turn to Naoise Ó Muirí, the current Lord Mayor of Dublin, who was considered Mitchell’s ‘first replacement’ in the European parliament had the retiring MEP been elected as president in October 2011.

But again, low name recognition may count against Ó Muirí.

There may be others and whoever does declare their intentions to seek the Fine Gael nomination will need the support of party members at a selection convention.

Whoever the party leadership’s favourite is will likely be the candidate to replace Mitchell but history shows there can be no guarantees.

After all it was Mitchell who was the party’s presidential nominee in 2011 despite the leadership’s preference for former European Parliament president Pat Cox.

Explainer: How will constituencies change now that Ireland’s losing an MEP?

Read: Gay Mitchell will not contest the next European elections

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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