Fine Gael move could help Independents get nominated for presidency

Fine Gael are expected tonight to consider allowing party councillors back a non-party candidate for the presidential election, a move that will likely help Independents get nominated.

The development comes as Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath says he will announce this month how he is involved trying to get a “human rights” focused and “civil society” candidate into the race.

Competition is heating up for the expected October 26 vote after an announcement by President Michael D Higgins last week that he intends to seek a second seven-year term.

Political sources familiar with Mr Higgins’s strategy say he is still contemplating how to juggle the role of president along with that of a campaign if and when the moment comes. It is expected that any involvement the incumbent has in a campaign will be limited until closer to polling day.

There are now a host of figures expressing interest in running but the President is the only person officially at this stage, as he can nominate himself to seek another term under the Constitution.

Others must get the support of 20 Oireachtas members or the backing of four local councils.

Independent Gerard Craughwell’s challenge for the role has also hastened the interest of other Independents contemplating entering the contest, including senators Joan Freeman, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, artist Kevin Sharky, writer and barrister Noel Whelan, as well as Dragon’s Den businessman Gavin Duffy.

Sinn Féin will take a number of weeks to decide on a candidate and party MEP Lynn Boylan has ruled herself out of the mix.

The Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaders and their TDs and senators have decided to formally back Mr Higgins for a second term. But in recent days, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin relaxed the whip on councillors, allowing them to consider their own preference.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will lead a Fine Gael executive council meeting tonight, at which officials and elected members are expected to consider the idea that party councillors will also be free to back a rival to Mr Higgins.

Meanwhile, Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath, who sits at Cabinet, has said he wants a “human rights” focused candidate in the race and is in talks about such a figure running for the Park.

I’ve been involved in negotiations and talks with Independent candidates, some members of the Oireachtas, over the past couple of weeks, and continue to talk.

“But I have a slightly different view to some of my colleagues inside, I want to broaden it out as well to see if there’s anybody from the civic society, and here we are today with some magnificent people here with a disability. I personally would love to see a candidate come in from that sector, to bring a new dimension, that new human rights approach,” he said.

However, asked if he had someone in mind, the Independent Alliance minister replied: “Not at the moment, but if the right person were to appear, I would be supporting that person. We already concede now there’s going to be an election, and what I say to my colleagues is if somebody emerges from civic society with a strong track record I’ll actually be looking seriously at them to run.

“At the moment I’m talking to people privately, I’m not going to disclose who I’m talking to, but I’m hoping to make that decision by the end of July.”


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