Fine Gael to back Michael D Higgins ‘unconditionally’ in re-election bid

Fine Gael has formally agreed to back Michael D Higgins for a second term as president and closed the door on its party councillors supporting a rival for Áras an Uachtaráin.

The party’s executive council made the decision last night, along with a commitment to contribute resources for Mr Higgins and for Fine Gael to campaign for him. The party will also ask elected councillors to do the same, as already agreed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and the parliamentary party.

Fine Gael’s executive council chairman Gerry O’Connell said: “On six separate occasions in our party’s history, Fine Gael has put political partisanship to one side and has supported either an incumbent or an agreed presidential candidate in the interests of national unity. In supporting Michael D Higgins, we acknowledge that he has demonstrated over the last seven years that he has been a model president who has brought great dignity to the office and earned great affection from the nation.

“We are committed to supporting his re-election unconditionally and are encouraging that the party membership on the whole to lend him their fullest support.”

Meanwhile, Independent senator Joan Freeman has written to councils seeking a meeting with councillors to request their backing to nominate her.

Other Independents doing likewise include Senator Gerard Craughwell, artist Kevin Sharkey and businessman and Dragon’s Den Star Gavin Duffy. Sinn Féin are using regional committees to decide on a candidate.

Ms Freeman, in her letter, said: “I believe that a presidency, which prioritises the wellbeing of this nation, physically and emotionally, is a presidency that delivers the best quality of life for Irish people both at home and abroad.

“However, before I can put this proposal to the people I need the support of the council to provide voters with a chance to have their say on whether they are with me.”

The founder of charity Pieta House set out why she was worthy of consideration, saying the charity was responsible for the biggest fundraising walk in the country, Darkness into Light, which has 200,000 participants. The only woman seeking nomination, she asked councillors to listen to her vision for the presidency:

“Through the office of President, I will deliver a new civil society initiative which will encourage people to volunteer and to give back to their communities. They will work hand-in-hand to address some of the key areas and people needing attention in Irish society: the vulnerable, the marginalized, and those most in need of care.”

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