Sinn Féin has decided that it will run a presidential candidate against Michael D Higgins, meaning a vote will now definitely take place in the autumn.
With Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fáil supporting President Higgins's bid for another seven-year term in office, Sinn Féin's decision on Saturday ensures voters will get to make a choice on October 25th next.
The decision was taken by Sinn Féin on Saturday after a meeting of the party’s ard comhairle, its executive board.
Party leader Mary Lou McDonald told reporters on Saturday the Sinn Féin campaign would focus on having “a wider conversation” about the future direction of the country.
“We have appointed a presidential election committee,” she said, which will run the process. The ard comhairle sub-committee will be chaired by David Cullinane TD, and will report in 10 days’ time with a process for how candidates can put their names forward. The ard comhairle will then select a party candidate from the nominees in the next number of weeks.
Speaking outside the Hugh Lane Gallery, in Dublin city centre, Ms McDonald said: “Ireland and the world have changed very dramatically in the seven years since we last had a presidential election.”
People under the age of 25 had never voted in a presidential election, she said, and “shouldn’t have to wait until the age of 32 to have this opportunity.”
It would be “wrong” if citizens did not get a vote on the presidency “because the political establishment of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Labour do not want an election”, she said.
“A new generation has become politically engaged and have been central to changing Ireland for the better,” she said, referencing the marriage equality referendum and the recent vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.
“I want to commend President Higgins and his wife Sabina on how they have represented Ireland during the term of his presidency,” she said, but added the coming campaign “will be about the next seven years”.
Ms McDonald said she “would not speculate on individual names” on who might put themselves forward for selection as the party candidate. Potential runners who have been speculated as being in the frame include MEPs Lynn Boylan and Liadh Ní Ríada.
There was a track record of presidential elections being “ugly and adversarial” campaigns, she said. Sinn Féin “will be fighting this campaign to win”, she said.
President Higgins officially declared this week that he would nominate himself for a second seven-year term in Áras an Uachtaráin and would stand as an independent candidate.
As the incumbent, President Higgins can nominate himself for re-election.
Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell has previously said he is seeking nominations to contest the election, and Pieta House founder and Independent Senator Joan Freeman is also thought to be sounding out Oireachtas members for support.
Seán Gallagher, who came second to President Higgins in the 2011 election, has written to all local authorities and asked them to facilitate the entry into the race of aspirant candidates.
Candidates require the support of 20 Oireachtas members or four local authorities to secure a nomination.
During the 2011 campaign President Higgins committed to only holding the office for one seven-year term, but it had been widely speculated for more than a year in the corridors of Leinster House that he would seek a second term.
Former Lord Mayor of Dublin and Independent councillor Christy Burke had considered seeking a nomination in the last number of days, but on Friday ruled himself out.
Mr Burke said he had been approached to run by several supporters, but following a “serious amount of consideration” decided against seeking to contest the race. “The financial end of running in the election would only put too much pressure on myself but also on my team,” he said. The Dublin City Council veteran said he hoped the housing crisis would be the main issue of the presidential election campaign.
Fine Gael said this week it would canvass for the re-election of President Higgins and may use party resources to assist his campaign for a second term in Áras an Uachtaráin.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has confirmed his party would back Mr Higgins. The extent of Fine Gael's campaigning has not yet been decided, but Mr Varadkar indicated it was willing to erect posters and use party literature to support Mr Higgins.
Fianna Fáil, which is also backing Mr Higgins, is unlikely to follow suit, sources said, but the President’s former colleagues in the Labour Party will.
Independent members of the Oireachtas are attempting to harness support from members of the Dáil, Seanad and county councils as they seek to field a presidential competitor.
Responding to the news, Mr Craughwell said he was “utterly delighted” Sinn Féin were contesting the election. Mr Craughwell had sought a nomination to run on the basis that President Higgins should not be returned for a second term without an election.
He said he would still be seeking a nomination to run as an independent candidate.