Seán Gallagher asks councils to help candidates contest presidency

Michael D Higgins confirms intention to seek second term and is likely to face an election

A file image of Michael D Higgins and Seán Gallagher during the 2011 presidential campaign.  Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

A file image of Michael D Higgins and Seán Gallagher during the 2011 presidential campaign. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

 

Businessman Seán Gallagher has written to local authorities across the State asking them to consider supporting independent candidates in a presidential election.

President Michael D Higgins, who defeated a field including Mr Gallagher and the late Sinn Féin politician Martn McGuinness in the 2011 election, on Tuesday confirmed his intention to seek a second term in Arás an Uachtaráin.

A presidential election is expected to be held in October if others receive the backing of 20 or more Oireachtas members or four or more local authorities.

In his letter to the councils, Mr Gallagher noted the role city and county councils can play in the democratic process by “facilitating the nomination of candidates” to contest the presidential election.

“It is an important constitutional function available to local authority members, and in the interest of democracy and the widest electoral choice possible, I would appeal to you to ensure that you and your council colleagues exercise your constitutional right to nominate a candidate if you so wish,” he said.

While he does not explicitly state his intention to seek election, Mr Gallagher wrote that councils must exercise their right to nominate candidates and provide a fair playing field for all potential candidates.

He claims the office of President of Ireland cannot be “dictated by the narrow interests of political parties acting to prevent a democratic contest”.

Mr Higgins issued a brief statement confirming that he will seek a second term and will be running as an independent candidate. As the office holder, he does not need to be nominated by Oireachtas members or councils.

‘Offering himself’

In a statement, Mr Higgins’s spokesman said: “President Michael D Higgins wishes to confirm that he will be offering himself as an independent candidate, under Article 12.4.4 of Bunreacht Na hÉireann, when the Ministerial Order for a Presidential Election is made later in the year.”

“The Government has been informed of this decision...The President’s programme of official duties and engagements continues.”

Mr Higgins is expected to make a statement and take questions from the media at an event in Co Mayo later.

Senator Gerard Craughwell has confirmed he will be seeking a nomination to contest the election and Senator Joan Freeman is also understood to be seeking support.

Speaking after Mr Higgins confirmed his intention to seek a second term, Mr Craughwell said he was disappointed Mr Higgins had “left it to the 12th hour” to announce his intention.

“It was a strategic move on his part to close out the possibility of an election,” Mr Craughwell told RTÉ’s Today with Miriam. “We started this conversation 12 months ago (about an election). I’m convinced that we don’t do coronations in this country. We run elections.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald on Tuesday reaffirmed her view that there should be an election, and said the party’s Ard Chomhairle, its national executive, will make a decision on the issue on Saturday.

Martin Heydon, the chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party, said its TDs and senators will make a decision on whether to back Mr Higgins at their weekly meeting tomorrow. It is widely expected Fine Gael will support Mr Higgins.

Background

When asked if he would accept the support of Sinn Féin for his candidacy, Senator Craughwell replied: “a nomination is a nomination”. However, he said he thought it would be “an ask” for Sinn Féin to support him given his background as a British soldier.

He claimed the “political elite” from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will attempt to thwart a presidential election.

This made him even more determined to get the nomination, he added.

“I’m quite angry that the President left it so late. We’ve been discussing this for 12 months.”

Mr Craughwell said he believed the public wants an election and no one had the right to return unopposed. He denied that he now feared he would not win. “Elections can turn on the spin of a coin.”

The President will have to explain why he changed his mind about serving just one term, he added.

It was important that all candidates have equal opportunities to canvas, he said.