Presidential race begins to take shape

Seán Gallagher congratulates Michael D Higgins in 2011.

Fiachra Ó Cionnaith breaks down the potential list of candidates for the Presidential race.

Michael D Higgins

The incumbent and clear front-runner, Michael D Higgins confirmed Ireland’s worst-kept secret last week by announcing his bid for a second term.

Widely popular both among the public, who affectionately refer to him as “Miggeldy”, and backed by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Labour, it is generally assumed that the race is Mr Higgins’ to lose.

However, while a decades-long track record on social and international issues means his CV will be difficult to better, there is some concern over his fitness, given that he will be 84 when the next presidential term ends.

Sinn Féin’s candidate

After the “best-kept secret” being revealed when Mr Higgins confirmed his candidacy, on Saturday Sinn Féin revealed the second-best-kept secret by announcing that it will also run a candidate.

The only that question remains is: “Who?”

Party leader Mary Lou McDonald has already dropped hints, noting the plight of under-25s (young), that women must be promoted (female), and that conversations are needed about what a future united Ireland may mean (northern).

Contenders include former Stormont education minister Michelle Gildernew, outgoing TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Belfast lawyer John Finucane, and MEP Liadh Ní Riada.

Independent senator Frances Black is believed to have declined an approach, while rumours continue to circle regarding GAA analyst Joe Brolly.

Seán Gallagher’s gang

He hasn’t officially entered yet, but last week’s letters to councils by 2011 presidential candidate and former Dragon’s Den panelist Seán Gallagher has sparked understandable speculation on his future plans.

Writing in yesterday’s Sunday Independent, Mr Gallagher said the focus is shifting towards councils, which can nominate a candidate even without Oireachtas support.

A strikingly similar message was also given by political analyst Noel Whelan and fellow Dragon’s Den panelist Gavin Duffy in the Sunday Times and Sunday Business Post.

It may be a coincidence, but with limited Independent candidate space, the suspicion is that the three may drop to one after two stalking-horse colleagues back out gracefully.

Ger Craughwell

The Independent senator was the first to challenge Mr Higgins for the presidency last year.

A former British army soldier and ex-teachers’ union representative, Mr Craughwell is still seeking support from smaller parties and Independents.

Joan Freeman

The Pieta House suicide prevention and awareness group founder is a rumoured runner.

The Independent senator, who was nominated by former taoiseach Enda Kenny, yesterday received support for her presidential bid from another former taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

Kevin Sharkey

The artist confirmed earlier this year on RTÉ’s The Ray D’Arcy Show that he wants to be a presidential candidate, before putting forward a series of controversial views on immigration and social matters which may yet hinder his bid.

Pádraig Ó Céidigh

Another Seanad nomination by Mr Kenny, on foot of a recommendation from Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, the Independent senator chaired the divisive Oireachtas water charges committee last year.

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