Higgins seeks Labour Party nomination for presidency

LABOUR FOREIGN affairs spokesman Michael D Higgins has declared his interest in being nominated by the party as its candidate…

LABOUR FOREIGN affairs spokesman Michael D Higgins has declared his interest in being nominated by the party as its candidate for the presidency when Mary McAleese steps down in November 2011 at the end of her second term of office.

His announcement came in the wake of a similar declaration by former party adviser Fergus Finlay, who sent a letter to Labour TDs and Senators this week seeking support as party nominee.

Mr Higgins, a former minister for arts, culture and the Gaeltacht, said yesterday he considered the matter over the summer and had decided to put himself forward.

“I will make a fuller statement when the Labour Party announces its selection process,” he said. Under Labour’s constitution, the final decision is made jointly by the parliamentary party and the executive board.

Asked whether she would consider seeking the Fine Gael nomination, Ireland East MEP Mairéad McGuinness said last night: “I have not made any decision one way or the other on it, nor have I been asked by the party to consider running, although a number of colleagues have approached me informally about it.”

Fianna Fáil MEP for Ireland South, Brian Crowley, has been mentioned as a likely candidate for the main Government party, but when contacted yesterday he declined to make any comment.

Mr Higgins said he had been proposed for the Labour nomination in 2004, at the end of Mrs McAleese’s first term,  but the party decided by a single vote that it would not be fielding a candidate. Mrs McAleese was re-elected unopposed.

He recalled how, on that occasion, he wanted to use the campaign to promote discussion on the connection between the economy and society: “The case for an appropriate discourse is even stronger now.”

Mr Higgins said he believed his experience in a wide range of elected offices, including county councillor, mayor, senator and TD, as well as his four years as a cabinet minister, made him a suitable candidate.

In his letter to Labour TDs, Senators and members of the party’s executive board, Fergus Finlay said: “The presidency – especially a presidency in which every citizen has a personal sense of ownership – has the power to reflect and to shape the vital spirit of our people.

“In light of everything that has happened in the last few years in Ireland, it has never been more important that the people be given a real choice about what kind of spirit should inform our politics in the years ahead. The leadership that people are looking for – and more from us than from anyone else – is a form of leadership that is based on respect and trust, but informed by a strong vision of what Ireland can be.

“A democratically elected president must be capable of articulating that new sense of direction,” said Mr Finlay, chief executive of children’s charity Barnardos.

Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White and Independent Senator David Norris have also declared an interest in running. Other prominent figures featuring in speculation include former taoisigh Bertie Ahern and John Bruton; Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly; managing director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia Mary Davis; Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and Fine Gael MEP and former GAA president Seán Kelly.

Mr Ahern answered “yeah” when asked in a radio interview this week whether he would like the position, but he said the issue did not arise at this time.

Welcoming the declarations of interest by party colleagues in running for Áras an Uachtaráin, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said yesterday: “It would appear that there will be a contest for the Labour Party nomination for the presidency, and that’s something that I am very pleased about.”