Fine Gael rebels set to defy Taoiseach and back Duffy’s Áras bid

Seán Gallagher may also join race for presidency

Gavin Duffy making his pitch for a nomination at a special meeting of Carlow County Council yesterday. Picture: Dylan Vaughan
Gavin Duffy making his pitch for a nomination at a special meeting of Carlow County Council yesterday. Picture: Dylan Vaughan

Two Fine Gael councillors are set to back Gavin Duffy’s presidency bid in direct defiance of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and party headquarters.

And the presidential race took another twist last night when it emerged that a Seán Gallagher website has been registered in recent days.

Mr Duffy got a boost as local representatives Maria Murphy and Alan Tobin will help him secure a nomination from Meath County Council.

Mr Duffy is understood to have now tied down support from five councillors ahead of a special meeting on August 27.

Fine Gael councillors have been advised not to help nominate a candidate in opposition to Michael D Higgins.

However, Ms Murphy confirmed to the Irish Independent last night that she believes there should be an election.

“I think it’s a democratic process and if people want a nomination, it should be open for them to put their name forward,” she said.

Ms Murphy said Mr Duffy had done substantial work with the Meath enterprise and tourism boards “long before any campaign for the presidency”.

Asked if she was concerned about Fine Gael sanctions, she said: “There’s no whip applied from a council point of view. I’d say there’ll be a number of colleagues supporting him.”

However, Mr Duffy may face another challenger as speculation is continuing to mount that 2011 runner-up Mr Gallagher is set for another tilt at the Áras.

The web domain was registered in recent days as he considers his options.

Earlier in Carlow, the two current frontrunners to win presidential nominations launched veiled attacks on Mr Higgins’s decision to backtrack on his promise to be a one-term president.

Mr Duffy and Senator Joan Freeman both indicated they would not seek to remain at Áras an Uachtaráin for 14 years if elected in October.

The pair said seven years is long enough, with Ms Freeman going further to suggest the term should be reduced to five.

While making their pitches for a nomination to Carlow County Council, the pair also pledged to be more transparent than the incumbent when explaining how taxpayers’ money is spent on travel and accommodation.

Mr Duffy committed to voluntarily publishing details of presidential expenditure, regardless of whether the Government changes Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. The presidency is exempt from FOI and Mr Higgins recently found himself engulfed in controversy over reports he stayed in a Swiss hotel that charges €3,000 a night for a suite.

Ms Freeman said “everybody should be able to explain how they use public money”.

The two candidates faced a series of questions from councillors on their backgrounds and religious beliefs.

Ms Freeman, the founder of Pieta House, also faced accusations that by building her campaign primarily around the issue of mental health, she is a one-trick pony. “I’ve been accused of being a one-trick pony on several occasions. But the trick is very big,” she said.

The meeting was also addressed by Galway native Patrick Feeney, who received 22 votes in the 2016 General Election. Councillors are expected to meet again on September 10 to decide on their nominations.

Irish Independent

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