Fine Gael Executive Council formally endorse Higgins for presidency

Senator Joan Freeman seeks nomination from councils

Senator Joan Freeman says ‘simple ideas’ have helped her work towards a ‘lifelong ambition to build a better quality of life’, in a letter to councillors as part of her bid for a presidential nomination. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Senator Joan Freeman says ‘simple ideas’ have helped her work towards a ‘lifelong ambition to build a better quality of life’, in a letter to councillors as part of her bid for a presidential nomination. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

The Fine Gael Executive Council has formally announced it has decided the party will endorse and support the candidacy of President Michael D Higgins in a presidential election, should it take place.

And it has requested that no Fine Gael councillor nominates a cadidate to oppose him.

Speaking after a meeting of the executive council on Wednesday night, chairman Gerry O’Connell said they acknowledge that Michael D Higgins has “demonstrated over the last seven years that he has been a model President who has brought great dignity to the Office and earned great affection from the nation”.

“We are committed to supporting his re-election unconditionally and are encouraging that the party membership on the whole to lend him their fullest support,” he said.

“As a consequence of tonight’s decision, we will be requesting that no Fine Gael councillor or Fine Gael council group nominates a candidate in opposition to Michael D Higgins.”

Separately, Fianna Fail Dublin City councillor Paul McAuliffe, has said he has secured the support of the five councillors required to call an emergency meeting of Dublin City Council. The meeting should be held within no more than seven days to agree the process for a presidential nomination.

“With the next meeting of the City Council scheduled in September and an election likely to take place in October, I believe that councillors must be given time to exercise their constitutional role,” he said.

“While it is not possible to make a formal nomination in advance of the electoral order, it is possible for candidates to address the elected members,” he said.” I hope that this will take place at the forthcoming meeting.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Senator Joan Freeman said she would develop a new initiative to encourage people to volunteer in their communities if she is elected President later this year.

Ms Freeman has written to county councils asking to arrange meetings where she can outline her pitch for the presidency.

In her letter, she draws on her experience as founder of Pieta House, the suicide awareness charity, in arguing she “will deliver a new civil society initiative which will encourage people to volunteer and to give back to their communities”.

Other themes include the challenging nature of modern working life, as well as the difficulties of social interactions online, particularly for young people.

Ms Freeman is the first of the aspiring presidential candidates seeking to challenge Michael D Higgins to outline her vision for the office. To get on the presidential ballot paper, a candidate needs 20 signatures from TDs or senators or the support of four county councils.

“The reason I am running is simple,” Ms Freeman says in her letter. “I believe that a presidency, which prioritises the wellbeing of this nation, physically and emotionally, is a presidency that delivers the best quality of life for people at home and abroad.”

She says that, as a senator, she “played a key role in an era of firsts for the promotion of wellbeing in Ireland”. This included the establishment of the first ever Oireachtas committee on the future of mental health.

‘Simple ideas’

“As a country, we are finally waking up to the view that wellbeing provides our people not just with the best personal fulfilment, but also with the most prosperity. However, we still have a long way to go.

“Alongside our economic recovery we have witnessed some of the most impressive technological advancements in society; developments that have provided unparalleled opportunity.

“Our working lives are richer, but more challenging and stressful than ever before. Our personal lives, especially those of young people, are more virtually connected and yet more isolated than ever.”

She says “simple ideas” have helped her work towards a “lifelong ambition to build a better quality of life”.

“Since founding Pieta House in 2006 I have helped change the national dialogue on mental health and well-being in this country. Now, Pieta House delivers free confidential therapy to thousands around the country.

“Darkness into Light, the charity’s national flagship walk, started with just 400 people. Thanks to the spirit of volunteering it is now the most successful fundraising walk in Ireland with more than 200,000 people walking for a brighter and more hopeful future in 2018.”

The “model for success” was built on volunteerism, she adds.

“Volunteering provides as much healing, as much hope, and as much reward to the volunteer as it does to those in need.”

“Through the office of President, I will deliver a new civil society initiative which will encourage people to volunteer and to give back to their communities. They will work hand-in-hand to address some of the key areas and people needing attention in Irish society: the vulnerable, the marginalised, and those most in need of care.”

As President, Ms Freeman says she will help “create an Ireland that delivers not just on symbolic resonance with Irish people, but a role that protects and delivers some of the fundamental imperatives of our Constitution and our Republic”.