|Senator Eamonn Coghlan with Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny|
Coghlan front-runner to replace MEP Mitchell on FG ticket
FORMER world champion athlete Eamonn Coghlan is the early favourite to replace MEP Gay Mitchell on the Fine Gael ticket in next year's European elections.
Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews is also being mentioned as a possible candidate, as is Senator Catherine Noon.
Mr Mitchell, who was Fine Gael's candidate in the 2011 presidential election, will be retiring next year after more than 30 years in Dublin City Council, the Dail and European Parliament. Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid tribute to Mr Mitchell following his decision not to seek re-election.
"Gay Mitchell is a politician of deep conviction who has always approached his many roles in public life with great commitment and integrity," he said. Mr Kenny said Mr Mitchell gave "many years of dedicated service" as a councillor, Lord Mayor of Dublin, TD, junior minister and MEP.
Mr Mitchell's victory in the 2004 European elections in Dublin was a crucial win for Mr Kenny as he tried to rebuild Fine Gael after the 2002 General Election meltdown.
However, his final election was as the candidate in the party's disastrous presidential election campaign in 2011, when he got just 6pc of the vote.
Mr Mitchell said yesterday he believed this was a good time to allow new candidates to emerge.
"When I first stood for the European Parliament in 2004, I did so at the request of the party leader, as Fine Gael only had three Dail seats out of 43 in Dublin, one of which was mine.
"Next year I will be 10 years in parliament, and I have already served 26 years as a TD, having been first elected in my 20s.
"Fine Gael now has 16 TDs, three senators and 36 councillors in Dublin. Taking all things into account I believe this is a good time to allow new candidates to emerge," he said.
Fine Gael will now have to look to replacing Mr Mitchell, who was a formidable vote-getter at local and European level.
Former Olympic athlete Eamonn Coghlan is being lined up by Fine Gael as a potential runner for Europe or the Dublin Mayor.