Minister ‘strongly believes’ Higgins should face Áras competition

A Cabinet minister has broken ranks by calling for a presidential election this year.

Independent Alliance Minister Finian McGrath said he “strongly believes” that President Michael D Higgins should face competition to remain for a second term in Áras an Uachtaráin and has been in discussion with several potential candidates.

His comments are in stark contrast to Independent Minister Katherine Zappone, who yesterday tweeted her support for President Higgins to stay on for a second term.

Speaking in New York, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Fine Gael will come to a decision when President Higgins makes an announcement as to whether he will be nominating himself for a second term.

That is a decision he will make in the coming weeks. We think the respectful thing to do is to wait to do that before making a decision ourselves,” said Mr Varadkar.

Fianna Fáil has already agreed to support President Higgins if he decides to continue on in the position.

Mr McGrath said it would be “refreshing for the country” to hold a presidential election in October as it would be “very boring and very, very stale” to simply continue without a contest.

Describing President Higgins as a fantastic international statesman, he said: “There should always be challenges, there should always be dissenting voices.

There should be an election and I would love to see some credible independent candidate coming on board and have an election because I think it’s refreshing for the country — Ireland has changed in the last two or three years.

“If Michael D wins the election, good luck to him.”

While he ruled out running himself, Mr McGrath confirmed he has been consulting with a number of potential candidates.

“There is good chance that other credible candidates will put themselves on the pitch in the coming weeks,” he said.

Separately, Mr McGrath said he would be backing a Fianna Fáil motion calling for redress for sexual abuse victims, stating that a “common sense solution” can be found.

The motion due before the Dáil this week states that victims abused by people who were employed in schools but who have already been convicted should be compensated by the State without having to prove a prior complaint was made to authorities.

Mr McGrath said he has discussed the issue with Education Minister Richard Bruton and would be speaking to the attorney general about a way to help victims.

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