Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has strongly hinted his party will consider running a presidential election candidate if Michael D Higgins’ future is not decided by the new year.
Mr Martin issued the de facto deadline as he separately ruled out Bertie Ahern’s party return, labelled a bid to give the former taoiseach a “distinguished service” party medal as “mischievous” and said his first act in power will be to scrap the Government’s strategic communications unit.
Speaking to reporters at the launch of his party’s two-day ard fhéis at the RDS in Dublin, Mr Martin said it is “too early” to discuss the a presidential campaign out of “respect” for the office.
However, he added on two unprompted occasions that, if President Higgins does not clarify his position, he will re-examine the situation in early 2018.
“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.
“It’s too early for speculation, particularly before the end of the year. The President should be allowed to conduct his duties on our behalf without this kind of speculation, 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 mounting in recent weeks over who Fianna Fáil could run, in part because of President Higgins’ comments last month that he will not reveal if he plans to seek re-election until weeks before a potential November 2018 presidential campaign.
However, while a number of Fianna Fáil candidates have been mooted, none have been publicly backed. Although grassroot party members last night voted to run a presidential candidate.
Meanwhile, Mr Martin has separately ruled out any possibility of ex-taoiseach Bertie Ahern returning to the Fianna Fáil fold and has labelled an attempt by his former cumann to put his name forward for a party medal as “mischievous”.
In a message to Fianna Fáil members in the lead up to the ard fhéis at the RDS in Dublin, party headquarters asked for names of individuals at local level who are deserving of a medal to honour their service.
In response, Mr Ahern’s former O’Donovan Ross cumann put the now ex-member’s name forward, despite Mr Martin last night insisting Mr Ahern is not eligible for a medal.
The Fianna Fáil leader also said he will “absolutely” scrap Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s €5m strategic communications unit immediately if he enters power.
He repeated the view in his opening ard fhéis address last night, telling delegates Mr Varadkar has been “caught out” on the unit’s cost and “has given up on trying to address chronic problems and wants a relentless, politicised spin campaign to try and sell their [Fine Gael’s] image”.
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