The formal announcement by President Michael D Higgins that he will seek a second term of office has confirmed the expectation held across the political world for some time. The big question now is whether he will face a contest for the highest office in the land or whether he will be returned unopposed as has happened at regular intervals in the past.
One person who has done all in his power to force a contest is Senator Gerard Craughwell, who announced almost a year ago that he would stand against Higgins if nobody else was prepared to do so.
Other Independent Senators have shown an interest in more recent times. The indications are that they will decide among themselves who should be a candidate. Whoever emerges should be able to muster the support of 20 Oireachtas members required to back a nomination.
An alternative way for a candidate to get a nomination, as highlighted by Seán Gallagher yesterday, is to secure the backing of four local authorities. However, most do not have scheduled meetings until the autumn so it will be difficult for a potential candidate to go down that route with the election expected in late October.
Craughwell said he was disappointed Higgins had “left it to the 12th hour” to announce his intention and suggested that this was a strategic move to close out the possibility of an election.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have made it clear they will not put up a candidate in opposition to Higgins while Sinn Féin will make a decision on Saturday. Party leader Mary Lou McDonald has declared her support for putting forward a candidate but a final decision rests with the party's ard chomhairle.
At this stage a contest appears inevitable and that is no bad thing. While Higgins has done a good job in office and has every right to run for a second term, the electorate deserves a choice if only to allow the incumbent to outline his vision for the next seven years.
One issue Higgins will have to address is why he wants another seven-year term after stating so definitively during the hotly contested 2011 campaign that if elected he would serve only one term.
Politicians change their minds on all sorts of issues but the electorate is entitled to know the reasons for the change of heart. The evidence from opinion polls is that there is strong public support for the President running for a second term, but he should be required to explain and defend his decision.
The President’s impressive record in office and his justified popularity with all age groups will put him in a strong position to win a second term, but a contest would be useful to ensure that whoever occupies Áras an Uachtaráin for the next seven years has the greatest democratic legitimacy.