McDonald gives strong indication Sinn Féin will stand against Higgins

Party’s ard comhairle will make a decision on the matter at a meeting on July 14th.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said  the ‘person who occupies the highest office in the land, ought to have an electoral sanction’. Photograph: PA Wire

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald said the ‘person who occupies the highest office in the land, ought to have an electoral sanction’. Photograph: PA Wire

 

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has given the strongest indication yet that her party will run a candidate against Michael D Higgins for the presidency later this year.

Ms McDonald said her party’s ard comhairle - its executive board - will discuss the matter on Saturday, July 14th.

She again repeated her personal view that an election should take place while maintaining the final decision will be for the party’s executive.

“I do believe, as a matter of principle, the person who occupies the highest office in the land, ought to have an electoral sanction and mandate behind them. I don’t think it is appropriate that the incumbent simply rolls into another term of office seamlessly.”

Party sources said the view that the party should run a candidate has hardened in recent weeks - particularly since Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said his party would support Mr Higgins.

While the initial view was mixed, with many saying Sinn Féin should support Mr Higgins, Mr Martin’s decision swayed opinion towards standing a candidate, said one source, who argued that Fianna Fáil weakness should not prevent Sinn Féin from competing.

However, it was pointed out by others that the Sinn Féin ard comhairle may only decide this month to initiate a strategic review of whether to stand a candidate against Mr Higgins, and may not make a final call until later in the summer.

Such a review would include the cost of an election, potential candidates and other issues. One source said that “candidates matter” but added nobody has ben lined up to stand yet. Nor was there a shortlist to select from.

“There is no shortlist,” the source said. Any candidate was likely to be of a “younger generation”, it was added. One name mentioned was Liadh Ní Riada, the Ireland South MEP.

Ms McDonald told reporters at Leinster House: “We are currently working our way through our options.”

She said one option was to facilitate an entry into the presidential race - by allowing its TDs and councillors support an aspiring candidate - even if Sinn Féin did not stand a candidate itself.

“I don’t mean this as any expression of disrespect to President Michael D Higgins, who I think is a fine individual personally and politically and a person for whom I have the utmost respect.”

The Dublin Central TD said a presidential election offered a different opportunity to a general election to have a debate about the future of the country.

She also strongly hinted that Sinn Féin would use any such poll to talk about Brexit and a united Ireland, the role of women in society, and other issues.

An election, she said, provides a “platform for a very healthy debate about Ireland” and “offers that kind of broad based conversation for Irish people to participate in”.