Presidential election: Higgins likely to take part in TV debates

Confusion over rules of engagement in first election to feature incumbent since 1965

President Michael D Higgins: may formally announce his candidacy at the National Ploughing Championship on September 19th. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

President Michael D Higgins: may formally announce his candidacy at the National Ploughing Championship on September 19th. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

President Michael D Higgins is almost certain to take part in televised debates during the presidential election campaign, according to sources close to him.

With this being the first presidential election since 1965 involving an incumbent, confusion has surrounded the nature of the campaign and the rules of engagement ahead of nominations closing on September 26th.

The Irish Times understands that RTÉ has made no formal approach yet and will not engage until the President has put his campaign team in place.

Not all members of that team have yet been selected, although it is expected that some of his special advisers will resign for the duration of the election campaign in order to support his bid for re-election.

The President is expected to formally announce his candidacy ahead of the deadline, possibly during his visit to the National Ploughing Championship on September 19th.

When outgoing president Éamon de Valera contested the 1965 election, he did not campaign, citing the grounds that, as president, he was above politics.

According to reliable sources in RTÉ, as well as those who have worked with President Higgins in the past, the campaign will be a full one with televised debates but perhaps will be more muted than in 2011, when candidates were involved in multiple debates.

At least one debate

“Until the President engages his election team, it is quite hard for us to get a steer on the shape of the campaign,” said an RTÉ source. “We are planning but it depends on what can be agreed when the campaign proper starts.”

The RTÉ source said the national broadcaster expected at least one televised debate involving all candidates. Seán Gallagher, who has secured a nomination from county councils, has also indicated he is willing to participate in TV debates.

A source who worked with the President in the past said: “It is going to be a very different campaign than in 2011. Back then it was run by Labour people. He is keen to be seen as Independent and will undoubtedly welcome support from all sides,” he said.

Meanwhile, businessman Gavin Duffy may secure his crucial fourth county council nomination on Thursday. A number of councils are meeting to vote on nominations, including Dublin City, Cork County Council and Cavan County Council.