Fine Gael to canvass for the re-election of President Higgins

 Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has indicated his party is willing to erect posters and use party literature to support Mr Higgins. Photograph: Tom Honan

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has indicated his party is willing to erect posters and use party literature to support Mr Higgins. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

Fine Gael will actively canvass for the re-election of President Michael D Higgins and may use party resources to assist his campaign for a second term in Áras an Uachtaráin.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed his party would back Mr Higgins, who this week declared he wants a second seven-year term.

The extent of Fine Gael’s campaigning has not yet been decided, but Mr Varadkar indicated it was willing to erect posters and use party literature to support Mr Higgins.

Such discussions would be held with Mr Higgins and his re-election team over the coming months, the Taoiseach added.

“In terms of putting party resources and party money behind the re-election campaign, we are willing to do that.”

Mr Higgins confirmed he will seek re-election to the office of President and is likely to face a contest.

Fianna Fáil, which is also backing Mr Higgins, is unlikely to follow suit, sources said, but the President’s former colleagues in the Labour Party will. Sinn Féin will decide this weekend on whether it will stand a candidate.

At a meeting on Wednesday the Fine Gael parliamentary party was presented with three options: to field its own candidate, not participate in the election or support Mr Higgins.

Twelve people spoke at the meeting, with nine in favour of supporting Mr Higgins for re-election. No vote was taken as the party had agreed overwhelmingly to support Mr Higgins.

Asked if the whip would be applied to councillors, Mr Varadkar said this would be a matter for the national executive to consider next week.

However, he stated the position adopted by the Fine Gael parliamentary party was that the party should not support other candidates and be involved in the re-election campaign of Mr Higgins.

“My view is if Fine Gael decides as a party that we are going to support the President’s bid for re-election that we should do that in a wholehearted and meaningful way,” Mr Varadkar added.

One candidate

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice is seeking the support of non-party deputies and senators to back one candidate to compete against Mr Higgins from within the Oireachtas.

In order to get onto the presidential election ballot paper, a candidate needs the support of 20 TDs and senators or four local authorities. Mr Fitzmaurice says there are only enough uncommitted Oireachtas members to facilitate one candidate into the race and said he had the support of 12 TDs and senators for this approach so far.

Those confirmed as seeking a nomination to date include senators Gerard Craughwell, Joan Freeman and Pádraig Ó’Céidigh. While Mr Craughwell and Mr Ó’Céidigh are understood to be open to Mr Fitzmaurice’s approach, Ms Freeman did not return calls on Wednesday night.

A group of Independent senators met on Wednesday evening to discuss whether to take a common approach, although it is not expected a final decision will be made.

Mr Fitzmaurice, along with former presidential candidate Seán Gallagher, has also appealed to Independent councillors to help facilitate contestants into the race.

Two councillors on Galway County Council yesterday tabled a motion supporting Mr Craughwell for the presidency.

The motion from Thomas Welby and Pat Hynes says: “That Galway County Council will support the candidacy of Senator Gerard Craughwell for the election of the President of Ireland.

“If this motion is passed, we instruct the interim CEO to notify the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy TD that when the writ for the presidency is issued that Senator Craughwell is the nominee of Galway County Council.”