Presidential hopefuls struggling to win county council support are set to be thrown a contest lifeline after 17 Independent TDs and senators said they will nominate an agreed candidate - and six said they may follow suit in the coming days.
The figures were revealed tonight by unaligned Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice, who has called for Independent Oireachtas members to join together to nominate a candidate in order to ensure the Aras race is not limited to mainstream options.
Amid concern last month the presidential contest could be limited to a small number of established candidates, Mr Fitzmaurice called for Independent TDs and senators to explain if they want to nominate a non-party choice by Friday at 5pm.
In order to do so, at least 20 of the 23 Independent TDs and 14 Independent senators would have to give their support to a candidate.
And, while the 20-person figure has yet to be reached, Mr Fitzmaurice said 17 Oireachtas members have formally told him they will back an agreed candidate, with two more saying they will do so if there is more support and four saying they will reply next week after returning from their holidays.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, he said this means there is a strong likelihood Independent members of the Oireachtas will be able to nominate a candidate for the presidential race - opening up the contest further for previously unlikely contenders.
Should three more Independent TDs and senators lend their support in the coming days, Mr Fitzmaurice said he will organise a meeting with all interested presidential candidates within a fortnight so that politicians can hear their pitches.
During this meeting, TDs and senators will be asked to vote using the proportional representation system for their favoured candidate, at which point an agreed contender is likely to emerge.
The backdoor into the presidential race is likely to interest businessmen Sean Gallagher and Gavin Duffy who are competing for council support, as well as Independent senator Joan Freeman, who until recently has been focussing on local authorities.
However, it will also be seen as an unexpected opportunity for journalist Gemma O'Doherty, artist Kevin Sharkey and others who are currently trying to convince councillors to back their rival Aras bids.
The support of Independent TDs and senators could be a crucial, and until recently, unexpected lifeline for the less favoured candidates to enter the presidential race, in part because of Independent senator Padraig O Ceidigh's decision this week not to contest the presidency.
Interest from Independents in the race has increased recently due to Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil's official decision to back Michael D Higgins' presidential re-election bid, and Sinn Féin's decision to run its own candidate, there is the risk that potential contenders could be blocked from entering the contest.