Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has denied Seán Gallagher is a “proxy candidate” for the party, claiming the label is “ridiculous” — despite ongoing support from grassroots members.
Mr Martin was forced to reject the claim after Mr Gallagher quickly won the support of four councils needed to officially enter the presidential race on Monday, in part due to backing from Fianna Fáil councillors.
Speaking at the start of Fianna Fáil’s two-day pre-Dáil think-in at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Mr Martin said TDs and senators “took a decision” earlier this year to back Michael D Higgins’s re-election bid.
Despite party TD Éamon Ó Cuív’s rumoured interest in entering the race and ongoing private calls from party members to run a candidate, Mr Martin said nothing has changed in this regard.
Asked directly about Mr Gallagher, he denied the businessman, who has close ties to the party, is effectively Fianna Fáil’s “proxy” presidential candidate.
“I think that is ridiculous. Clearly not,” said Mr Martin.
First of all the Fianna Fáil party took a decision and informed a decision to support the candidature of the outgoing President, Michael D Higgins, as we believe he has performed very well on behalf of the country and with distinction abroad and here as well in our own country.
“He is very well placed given his personal background, his political background, his depth, his intellectual capacity to take us through, as president, what will be a very important series of events with the commemorations of the War of Independence, the Civil War, and beyond that.
“I welcome other candidates coming into the race. I made it very clear that councillors have an entitlement to facilitate the nomination of other candidates and we are not in the business of blocking candidates.
Seán Gallagher, along with others, have decided to enter the race, and has secured nominations and we look forward to the campaign as it ensues.
On Monday, Mr Gallagher and Independent Senator Joan Freeman became the first two presidential candidates to successfully be nominated to officially enter the race alongside Mr Higgins.
It is widely expected businessman Gavin Duffy and potentially one other candidate will also succeed in receiving enough support in the coming fortnight to contest next month’s presidential election.
The likely developments mean it is almost certain to be a five-person official race for the Áras, with Sinn Féin also guaranteed to run a candidate — rumoured to be either John Finucane or Liadh Ní Riadha — who will be revealed in the coming days.
Despite vocal calls from members for Fianna Fáil to run a candidate, Mr Martin has steadfastly insisted the party will not formally enter the race and will instead officially back Mr Higgins — a situation which sits uncomfortably with a number of TDs and senators.