FG waiting on Cowen before finalising line up

IT COULD be January before Fine Gael HQ decides on its election strategy in Laois-Offaly, with Brian Cowen's future playing a part in the party's decision.

IT COULD be January before Fine Gael HQ decides on its election strategy in Laois-Offaly, with Brian Cowen's future playing a part in the party's decision.

The party appears to be hedging its bets on two possible scenarios, following the selection of three candidates last weekend by local party members at their General Election convention. Two Offaly newcomers joined Charlie Flanagan on the ticket at the packed meeting in Mountmellick.

While the local organisation believes that two seats can be won in Laois and one Offaly, the party's top brass are playing a wait and see game.

They have not ruled out the possibility that An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen would not run again if ousted as FF leader. This would blow the race wide open.

Speaking with the Offaly Express, Enda Kenny's right hand man, Deputy Phil Hogan made it clear that HQ will decide the final strategy.

"The national executive will have a look at the situation and to see if a fourth candidate will be added," he said.

The Kilkenny TD accepted the local party want four candidates and that they are leaning towards Laois. He would not rule out anybody, including Portlaoise poll topper Cllr Willie Aird who did not go forward at convention.

With voting finished on Sunday, speculation focused on Cllr John Moran and Paddy Buggy. But, there is a belief that party HQ wants a "competitive" candidate who would challenge Charlie Flanagan and all other candidates for number ones.

"We will be putting forward the best possible team to win three seats," said Deputy Hogan. As to when the candidate would be selected he said "early in the new year".

"I have no doubt that there is a sea of change in the country to remove Fianna Fil from office and therefore there is a huge opportunity for FG to win three seats in each five seat constituency," he said.

If Mr Cowen runs, Deputy Hogan accepted that the Taoiseach would take many Offaly votes, but he said this did not mean that Laois was the more likely county for FG to make a gain.

"We have good quality candidates in both counties that have a chance of getting elected. From a purely national FG perspective we're not too worried which county they are in as long as we get three," he said.

Sitting TD Charlie Flanagan topped the poll in Mountmellick. He was followed by Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and Cllr Liam Quinn who will be the party's choice on the Offaly side of the border.

Charlie Flanagan comprehensively saw off Cllrs James Daly, John Moran and Mr Buggy. On the Offaly side John Clendenen and Cllrs Nicola Hogan and Molly Buckley lost out.

Speculation that Sunday's convention would be focused on Offaly was all but confirmed by Deputy Hogan. Chairing the meeting he announced that delegates would decide on three of the candidates, with a fourth to be confirmed by the party HQ's executive council.

After the speeches, he told delegates that they could only select one Laois candidate, a Tullamore/Edenderry area candidate and one from the Birr/Ferbane region.

As it turned out the meeting was something of a ratification process for sitting Deputy Flanagan. While the party refused to publish an official result, it is understood he came out on top polling 134 of the 550 votes cast.

Despite losing her Ferbane county council seat, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy was selected for south Offaly taking 94 votes. Edenderry, poll topper Liam Quinn secured the third place but also impressed many with a speech that won him a standing ovation. The young teacher took 78 votes.