Candidates limbering up for competitive race for the Áras

At least four candidates look set to challenge President Michael D Higgins for the Park in what is evolving into a mixed, competitive, and, so far, dignified race.

After a flurry of council votes and presidential pitches yesterday, attention will likely turn to Áras an Uachtaráin amid questions over the intentions of Mr Higgins.

Businessman Seán Gallagher became the first challenger to make it across the line yesterday, securing, over the course of just a few hours, the backing of the required four councils to enter the presidential race.

Councillors backed him in Roscommon, Mayo, Leitrim, and Wexford.

Fellow Dragons’ Den star and businessman Gavin Duffy added to his count, securing the support of Wicklow and Carlow County Councils after having received the vote from Meath last week. He is likely to get a fourth council vote from his native Louth next week.

Senator Joan Freeman, the founder of Pieta House, joined Mr Gallagher as an official candidate yesterday after picking up the remaining votes she required.

Ms Freeman secured Galway City Council’s vote last night after Galway County Council had backed her earlier, along with Fingal. She had secured Cork City Council’s vote last week.

Her campaign team had not been banking on Galway County.

The senator’s addition will likely stir up the race, especially with, potentially, two businessman either side of her trying to unseat Mr Higgins.

Nominations for Sinn Féin closed at 5pm yesterday. 

The Irish Examiner understands that of the four cuige and dozens of cumainn which proposed potential candidates, three names will be considered by the leadership. 

These include Ireland South MEP Liadh Ní Riada, Belfast solicitor John Finucane, and Cavan-Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

The ard comhairle leadership will meet on Sunday and hold a secret ballot on their choice for the race, but only after candidates have made a pitch for the party’s backing.

Senior sources expect that Ms Ni Riada will be the one chosen to run.

It will be a big shock if it is not Liadh,” one said.

Another route is open to candidates if they cannot secure council votes. Hopefuls can get on the ballot paper with the backing of 20 Oireachtas members. 

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice is trying to co-ordinate this.

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice

Now that a number of Independents candidates are in a position to challenge Mr Higgins, attention will inevitably turn to the incumbent.

A statement is pending on how Mr Higgins will campaign while carrying out his duties. Furthermore, at least one Oireachtas committee is set to consider calls for more transparency around spending by the office of the president.

Labour and Fine Gael, among other parties, will decide in the weeks ahead on how to fund the President’s re-election campaign.

Labour staff met last Friday and discussed this, as well as how its staff and members will integrate into constituency teams for Mr Higgins.

Nonetheless, sources at Áras an Uachtaráin have told the Irish Examiner that a statement from President Higgins is unlikely to come before nominations close on September 26. 

At that point, the incumbent will answer more questions and formally launch his campaign.

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