FF and FG ‘increasingly nervous’ about presidential election

Possible general election and cost may mean the parties will not field candidates

Frances Fitzgerald: neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael has an obvious candidate to oppose Michael D Higgins if he runs again. Within Fine Gael, Ms Fitzgerald’s name has been mentioned. Photograph: Eric Luke

Frances Fitzgerald: neither Fianna Fáil nor Fine Gael has an obvious candidate to oppose Michael D Higgins if he runs again. Within Fine Gael, Ms Fitzgerald’s name has been mentioned. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are becoming increasingly nervous about contesting the presidential election if President Michael D Higgins opts for a second term, according to sources in both parties.

Mr Higgins, who ruled out seeking a second term during the last election, has appeared to change his mind and has said he will clarify his position by September.

His term comes to an end in November and the election has to be held in that month at the latest.

A key factor for the two parties is the possibility of Fianna Fáil’s confidence and supply arrangement, keeping the minority Government in power, collapsing before the October budget leading to a general election.

There is also the cost of a presidential election campaign, estimated to be in the region of €500,000 for each party.

Some Ministers, TDs and Senators are also likely to be involved in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution scheduled for next May or June.

Local and European elections, hugely important for all parties, are due in the middle of next year.

‘Down the list’

“Politics is a practical business and the presidential election is down the list of priorities for all parties right now,’’ said a senior Fine Gael source.

“That is not to take from the office’s importance; it is simply a case of too much going on otherwise.’’

A Fine Fáil source said the strong possibility of a general election this year was concentrating the minds of all parties.

“Let’s be honest: minds are more focused on who will be in government after the next election rather than who is in the Áras by the end of the year,’’ said the source.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail sources are not ruling out Mr Higgins emerging as the agreed candidate of the major parties, if he opts for a second term, although remaining open to a possible challenge from other candidates.

Presidential candidates require the support of 20 Oireachtas members, either TDs or Senators, or from four local authorities.

Mr Higgins, who will be 77 by the next election, can nominate himself as outgoing President. Labour, who nominated him last time, has pledged its full support if he decides to run again.

Summer

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will have to make a decision by the summer at the latest if they are running candidates. This would allow time for the candidates to establish themselves with the electorate and put forward their views on the presidency.

Neither party has an obvious candidate to oppose Mr Higgins if he runs again. Within Fine Gael, the name of former tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has been mentioned.

In 2016, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, then a minister, praised Mr Higgins’s performance and said he would have “enormous support’’ to stay in office.

Broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan has been referred to as a possible Fianna Fáil candidate while, within the party, Senator Keith Swanick, a GP in Belmullet, Co Mayo, has expressed an interest in the nomination.

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell has said he will seek a nomination to ensure there is an election.