Presidential candidates: FG may restrict who councillors can help

Varadkar may ask councillors to facilitate only ‘truly Independent’ candidates

Senator Gerard Craughwell is seeking a nomination. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Senator Gerard Craughwell is seeking a nomination. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Fine Gael councillors may be only allowed to facilitate “truly Independent” presidential candidates to challenge Michael D Higgins, and not ones who are linked to rival parties or hold controversial views.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has raised the prospect of allowing his councillors to support the entry into the race of potential rivals to Mr Higgins.

The Fine Gael executive council is expected to discuss the matter at a meeting this evening, when it will formally approve a decision made by TDs and Senators to support Mr Higgins.

To get a nomination for the presidential election, candidates must secure the signatures of 20 TDs or Senators, or the backing of four county councils.

Among those seeking a nomination are Senators Gerard Craughwell, Joan Freeman and Pádraig Ó Céidigh. Businessman Gavin Duffy and barrister and media commentator Noel Whelan are said to be considering their options.

Former candidate Seán Gallagher, beaten by Mr Higgins in the 2011 presidential election, has called on councils to nominate candidates but has yet to say if he wants to run himself.

Mr Varadkar this week said Fine Gael would “have see who the people seeking council nominations [are] and whether we would want to facilitate them or not” while emphasising the party will be “actively supporting President Higgins”.

Defying the whip

Party sources said Mr Varadkar’s move is likely to be an acknowledgement that some councillors are likely to defy any party whip that would be imposed.

One Fine Gael Minister said: “It’s probably because you can’t control them.”

Other senior figures also said party councillors must proceed with care on who they should nominate.

“We’ll want to be careful about it,” the source said. “Some potential candidates could turn out to be Fianna Fáil-linked or Catholic-right-linked, rather than truly Independent.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin confirmed yesterday that his councillors would be free to facilitate Independent candidates into the election. He said he was “not in the business” of blocking Independents from contesting the election, and said his councillors were free to support those seeking to challenge Mr Higgins.

Joan Freeman is seeking a nomination. Photograph: Alan Betson
Joan Freeman is seeking a nomination. Photograph: Alan Betson

Hesitant Senators

Meanwhile, a number of Senators have said they will not sign anyone else’s nomination papers.

One of these Senators, Independent Lynn Ruane, said she would be fully supporting Mr Higgins re-election efforts, and did not want to sign the papers of one Seanad colleague over another.

“It is not my intention at this stage to be nominating anybody,” Senator John Dolan said. Independent Senator Colette Kelleher said she would not support any other candidate. And Marie Louise O’Donnell said she had “yet to decide” if she would sign any nomination papers.

Independent Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice is attempting to gather the 20 signatures from within the Oireachtas to nominate one candidate.

Mr Fitzmaurice estimates there are only enough nonaligned TDs and Senators in the Dáil and Seanad to facilitate one potential candidate.

However, his efforts could be damaged if a number of Oireachtas members decline to nominate a candidate.