Sinn Féin presidential election candidate Liadh Ní Riada says she will help to lead public debate on Irish unity if she succeeds Michael D Higgins in Áras an Uachtárain.
Ms Ní Riada, an Ireland South MEP, was announced as the party's challenger to Mr Higgins following a meeting of the Sinn Féin ard chomhairle, its executive council, in Dublin on Sunday.
At an event to announce her candidacy - at which no questions from the media were permitted - Ms Ní Riada placed heavy emphasis on the issue of Irish unity and said she would be an “energetic” president.
She said “partition will be overcome” and that “the tide of history is with those seeking to build a new, progressive and inclusive future.
“My vision for a new Ireland is a pluralist and inclusive one,” she said. “A United Ireland that respects the identities and traditions of all.
“I will be a positive voice for Irish unity, leading by example and demonstrating the outreach and inclusivity needed to bring the people of this island together. If I am president, Áras an Uachtaráin will be a welcoming house for all.”
Ms Ní Riada said “Ireland today is in transition” and that Brexit would have “a major impact on our political and constitutional future.
“Increasingly the prospect, shape and nature of a United Ireland will be a feature of public discussion and political decision making. As president, I will initiate an inclusive citizens’ conversation on a future united Ireland.”
Along with Cavan-Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, she was one of two candidates nominated in an internal process to choose who should stand against Mr Higgins. However, Mr Ó Caoláin said he had no interest in running.
Ms Ní Riada (51) was elected as MEP for Ireland South in 2014, coming second to Brian Crowley of Fianna Fáil. She polled more than 125,000 first preference votes in her first electoral outing.
Her selection means there will be at least five people on the presidential ballot paper. Businessmen Seán Gallagher and Gavin Duffy are running as independent candidates, as is senator Joan Freeman. The trio all secured the required endorsement of four local councils to officially become candidates.
As the incumbent, Mr Higgins is able to nominate himself while Sinn Féin has the numbers in the Oireachtas to ensure Ms Ní Riada goes forward.
The two biggest parties - Fine Gael and Fianna Fail - are both backing Mr Higgins for a second term of office, as is the Labour Party.
A range of other would-be independent candidates still retain hope of convincing undeclared councils to back their bids before the September 26th deadline.
Despite polls showing Mr Higgins having a commanding lead, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said: “We are fighting this campaign to win.”
The election is taking place on October 26th.
At the event to mark the start of her campaign, Ms Ní Riada also said she would be a “voice for a caring Ireland”.
“An Ireland where every child has a home. An Ireland that leaves no one behind.”
"I want to be a new president for a New Ireland. Ireland has radically changed since the last Presidential election. We've become a more caring and inclusive society. A global inspiration when it comes to progressive social change."
Ms Ní Riada joined Sinn Féin in 2011, just three years before winning her seat in the European Parliament.
She has a background in television production, including in RTÉ, and also ran her own production company, Red Shoe Productions, and was a member of the board that established TG4.
Ms Ní Riada is the daughter of Irish composer Seán Ó Riada, who died when she was four. Her mother died when she was 10, and Ms Ní Riada was raised by her siblings.
She has said in the past that she was inspired to move into politics by her first husband, Fiachra Ó hAodha, who died just 10 months after their wedding.
The Sinn Féin MEP told ‘Hot Press’ last year that she disagreed with describing IRA atrocities as terrorist attacks.
“It was a terrible time of conflict. But there is no conflict without a reason.”