Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin has strongly hinted his party will consider running a presidential election candidate if the ongoing question mark over Michael D Higgins' future is not decided by the new year, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent
Speaking at the launch of his party's two-day ard fhéis at the RDS centre in Dublin, Mr Martin said while it is "too early" to discuss the topic out of "respect" for the office, if nothing changes he will re-examine the situation in early 2018.
Mr Martin said he did not want to enter into detailed discussion on whether his party will put a candidate forward to run in an election race due by November 2018.
However - with a question mark continuing to hang over president Higgins' future due to the fact he has said he will not announce if he will seek a second term until next autumn, and ongoing speculation over who Fianna Fáil could run - he said on two occasions his party will consider the issue in detail early next year.
"My position has been consistent, I don't think it's appropriate at this particular juncture to be discussing a successor to President Higgins on the basis that he is the president, and I respect the dignity of the office.
"I think too early speculation on that, particularly before the end of the year. Maybe I'm a traditionalist in that regard, but it's not something that I agree with.
"I think the president should be allowed to conduct his duties on all our behalf without this kind of speculation at this stage, we still have some distance to go. Obviously we would consider that in the fullness of time in the new year," he said.
Speculation has been continuing to mount in recent weeks over who Fianna Fáil could run, with a number of candidates mooted despite the party refusing to say if it plans to back a candidate in an increasingly likely presidential election race.