President Higgins denies attempt to block rivals as he confirms bid for second term

President Michael D Higgins has sharply denied he timed his announcement to seek a second term in order to block other candidates from challenging him.

He yesterday confirmed his intention to seek a second term in office, despite stating clearly upon his election in 2011 that he would be a one-term incumbent.

His announcement was met with stinging criticism from Independent senator Gerard Craughwell .

In a letter to all Oireachtas members, Mr Craughwell appealed to his colleagues to help force a contest.

“During his 2011 election campaign, Michael D Higgins gave full assurances that he would only serve one term and indeed was highly critical of former president Mary McAleese’s decision to seek a second uncontested term in 2004. Now his failure to honour his own word, compounds what is effectively the subversion of the democratic election process in favour of a coronation,” Mr Craughwell wrote.

A former rival of President Higgins, businessman Seán Gallagher, has written to every local authority county council, calling on them to consider supporting independent candidates.

President Higgins, speaking to reporters in Mayo, strongly rejected claims he has blocked anyone from being a candidate.

 “I have not delayed for a single day anybody who could have, if they wanted to, been seeking a nomination for the past six and a half years,” he said.

“As to the timing, this term ends at midnight on the 10th of November 2018, we are four months from that date. Senator Craughwell’s business is his business,” he said. Asked if he feared a campaign, President Higgins said: “I have never shirked a campaign in my life.”

In a significant intervention last night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking to the Irish Examiner, was effusive in his praise of President Higgins, signalling his desire to see him stand again.

“President Higgins has done a wonderful job over the past seven years ably assisted and supported by [his wife] Sabina. As Taoiseach, I have found his advice, wisdom and clarity of thought to be really valuable at our Section 28 meetings. He’s been great overseas and carries himself with enormous dignity,” he said.

The Fine Gael parliamentary party meets tonight and is expected to endorse President Higgins, as Fianna Fáil has done.

Explaining his change of heart, President Higgins said he has been convinced to stand again by many people he has met throughout the country.

 

“Many, in recent conversations with me about our country and its future, have expressed an opinion that I should offer myself again as a candidate. This has been invaluable to me,” he said.

Asked if he could be trusted given he has changed his mind, he said: “Trust is earned. You earn trust by what you have done with my life. I have spent all of my life in the public space. I believe I have the trust of the Irish people and it is for them to judge.”

Aside from Mr Craughwell, senators Joan Freeman and Pádraig Ó Céidigh and artist Kevin Sharkey have expressed interest in contesting the €250,000 post.

The announcement comes as Independent TDs and senators have been asked to unite and rally behind one candidate for an election race so that they have enough support to be nominated. 

The 33 TDs and senators last night received a letter from Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice asking them would they support someone to challenge President Higgins’s ambitions for a second term. 

He and others in the Seanad and Dáil believe the prospect of an Independent challenging President Higgins would be unlikely if Oireachtas votes were split among a number potential candidates.

“Once we have established that we have 20 that would be willing to sign then we can determine who they would be favouring. I will bring the prospective candidates together to ask them if there is a situation that we have the majority going for one, would they give the backing to that person using the facility of the Dáil and Seanad signatures,” Mr Fitzmaurice’s letter states.

 

Mr Gallagher, without expressly stating if he is to be a candidate again, said councils have a crucial role to play in facilitating candidates who wish to contest the presidency.

 “It is an important constitutional function available to local authority members, and in the interest of democracy and the widest electoral choice possible, I would appeal to you to ensure that you and your council colleagues exercise your constitutional right to nominate a candidate if you so wish,” he said.

A contest for the presidency will occur if other candidates receive the backing of 20 or more Oireachtas members or four or more local authorities.


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