The presidential election will take place on October 26th, the Government has announced, after the signing of the election order by Minister for Local Government Eoghan Murphy yesterday.
The signing of the order signals the formal opening of nominations tomorrow.
The defeated 2011 candidate Seán Gallagher is expected to declare his intentions to seek a nomination today. Mr Gallagher indicated yesterday he would make his intentions known today, but he has been sounding out support from councillors in recent times and has conducted in-depth market research over the summer.
Other candidates have been appearing before meetings of county councils in recent weeks to seek their endorsement.
Potential candidates – except the sitting President, Michael D Higgins, who can and will nominate himself – must secure nominations from 20 Oireachtas members or four local authorities to make it on to the ballot paper. Nominations close at noon on September 26th, a month before the election. The next President will be inaugurated on November 11th.
As the number of potential candidates proliferates, Fine Gael yesterday confirmed that party headquarters had written to all councillors requesting that they abide by the decision to support a second term for President Higgins.
“We are requesting that councillors in considering the matter of presidential nominations take into account the party’s position and as a consequence neither propose nor support other candidates,” the letter to councillors says.
Asked if councillors who supported other candidates would be disciplined, a party spokeswoman did not respond.
Prospective candidates including businessman Gavin Duffy, Senator Joan Freeman, artist Kevin Sharkey and former Irish Independent journalist Gemma O'Doherty are continuing their campaigns to secure nominations through county councils, as are a number of less well-known potential candidates.
Sinn Féin has also said it will field a candidate. The Munster MEP Liadh Ní Riada is tipped to run, though the party will not make a decision until next month.
However, it is the likely entry of Mr Gallagher, a businessman and columnist for the Sunday Independent, that will provide the biggest shake-up yet to the developing race.
He was the surprise package of the 2011 race, with polls on the final weekend predicting a Gallagher victory. However, he was beset by controversy in the final week over past links to Fianna Fáil, and his campaign went into a nosedive. Even still, he won more than half a million votes on polling day.
Mr Gallagher will release a statement this morning in which he is expected to say he is meeting with councillors to discuss a a possible nomination, but with a number of councillors having already declared their support, it is thought that he will succeed in securing a nomination.