Joan Freeman asks councils to hold meetings to help possible presidential candidates

Commentator and barrister Noel Whelan confirms he will not stand as candidate

Aspiring presidential candidate Joan Freeman has urged local authorities to hold special meetings soon to facilitate the nomination of challengers to Michael D Higgins and assist in campaign preparations.

Ms Freeman, an Independent Senator, wrote to a number of councils on Tuesday asking them to hold special meetings as soon as possible. If they do so potential candidates would be “in a position to fully prepare for this election” such as raising funds for a campaign.

In order to get on to the ballot paper aspiring candidates must secure the signatures of 20 TDs or senators or have four councils passing motions facilitating their nominations.

Ms Freeman’s letter said candidates cannot be formally nominated until the presidential order is signed by the Minister for Housing, which is not expected to happen until late August or early September.

“Without an indication of support from councils it will prove extremely difficult to raise the necessary finance and put in place adequate personnel to establish campaign plans were candidates forced to wait,” said the founder of Pieta House, the suicide awareness charity.

“I am, therefore, requesting that you consider holding a special meeting and consider passing a resolution that your council hear my petition/presentation for a nomination as a candidate for the forthcoming presidential election in advance of the formal presidential order by Government.

“In facilitating this request, I and any other potential candidates will be in a position to fully prepare for this election. Moreover, your council members will be affording the Irish people with a democratic choice which includes the very valuable input of local voices and communities.”

Raising funds

Ms Freeman is understood to have told those supporting her that she does not believe she will have a difficulty in raising funds. TDs Mattie McGrath, Michael Collins and Michael Harty are among her supporters in Leinster House.

Another aspiring candidate, Independent senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh, is still assessing his options, and said running in this election posed “quite a significant challenge for Independents”.

Businessman Gavin Duffy is expected to confirm his candidacy next week in advance of a special meeting of Waterford City and County Council next Tuesday to hear from potential challengers to Mr Higgins.

The council has invited candidates seeking nominations before them to “state their case” , although it is not expected that the meeting will formally decide at this early stage to facilitate the entry into the race of any candidate.

Commentator and barrister Noel Whelan has confirmed he will not stand, as has former lord mayor of Dublin Christy Burke and ex-GAA president Liam O'Neill.

Mr Whelan said he sat down over seven or eight weeks with a dozen people he worked with on recent referendums to consider running for Áras an Uachtaráin. The political pundit who writes a column for The Irish Times had decided not to mount a campaign if President Michael D Higgins stood again, but revealed he reconsidered the possibility of entering the fray over recent weeks.

One term

“Firstly, I was surprised at the extent of the reaction of people saying they wanted to have an election, and I think there is a substantial minority that has issues around the President contesting again in circumstances where he promised one term.

"Secondly, the fact that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael didn't have a candidate, and weren't in a position to compel their councillors, then that had opened in my case at least a pathway to getting a nomination into the ballot paper," he told the Today With Miriam programme on RTÉ Radio One. Ultimately he decided that "we have a good President", and it is likely he will be reelected.