Senator calls on big parties to say if they are running presidency candidate
Gerard Craughwell says it would be ‘undemocratic’ not to have election for President
President Michael D Higgins: he has yet to declare if he will seek a second term in the autumn. Photograph: Getty Images
An aspiring Independent candidate for the presidency has called on political parties to declare if they will stand against Michael D Higgins in order to allow other challengers to organise their campaigns.
Gerard Craughwell, an Independent Senator, has said he wants to stand against Mr Higgins, who has yet to declare if he will seek a second term in the autumn.
Mr Craughwell and Independent Roscommon Galway TD Michael Fitzmaurice have signalled an interest in running for the post.
Mr Craughwell has written to the main party leaders asking them to state if they intend to stand a candidate. The Senator argues that it is important to have a democratic contest for the presidency even if Mr Higgins wants a second term and political parties would prefer to allow him a free run to avoid a costly election.
While an incumbent President can nominate themselves for re-election, challengers have various methods of seeking the nomination. One is to secure the signature of 20 members of the Oireachtas – TDs and Senators – and another is to secure the majority backing of four local authorities to enter the race.
According to Mr Craughwell, a voter who turned 18 in October 2011 – when Mr Higgins was elected – would not have a chance to vote in a presidential election until they are 32 if there is no contest this year.
“That is just undemocratic,” he said, adding that the parties must outline if they are going to stand a candidate or free up their TDs and Senators to sign the nomination papers of another candidate.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said there is no indication of a vacancy arising yet. He said Fine Gael would see “what the President decides to do”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said his party will look at the issue early this year, but stressed he did not want to “undermine” Mr Higgins, adding: “There was, in my time anyway, a tradition that you didn’t speculate wildly on elections.”
Mary Lou McDonald, who is expected to replace Gerry Adams as Sinn Féin leader in the coming weeks, has said she believes there should be an election, and that Mr Higgins should not be returned uncontested.
While the three main parties have enough TDs and Senators to nominate their own candidate, smaller parties and Independents would also be able to facilitate another candidate entering the race.
“I understand that some may feel it is inappropriate to openly discuss the next election for President of Ireland while the incumbent has not as yet made his intentions on seeking a second term clear,” Mr Craughwell said.
“I fully understand that the current incumbent is not obliged to state his intentions on a second term within any specific timeframe. However, the time of his choosing may be too late for any hopeful to mount a reasonable challenge.
“Ten months is a very short time when it comes to mounting a challenge for any political office. It is not my intention to pressurise the incumbent into making his intentions on a second term clear. I fully respect his right to choose his own time.
“Challengers must be given time to mount their campaign and state their case. This is the right thing to do, and it’s the democratic thing to facilitate it.”