President Michael D Higgins has “never run away from a campaign” in his life and is looking forward to running for a second term in Áras an Uachtarain.
However, the President has refused to confirm whether he will take part in any televised debates.
Cavan businessman and former Dragons’ Den judge Sean Gallagher, who secured a nomination from local councils, has already said he will not take part in any televised debate that does not include Mr Higgins.
Fellow Dragons’ Den judge Peter Casey yesterday became the sixth candidate to be nominated after Limerick City and County Council and Tipperary County Council voted to select him. He already had the backing of councils in Kerry and Clare.
Speaking as he opened this year’s National Ploughing Championships, Mr Higgins called for a “dignified” campaign.
Three of the five candidates who have received nominations also attended the first day of the ploughing yesterday and there was a pleasant but short exchange between Mr Higgins and Mr Gallagher when they bumped into each other at the bandstand.
Gavin Duffy, the third Dragons’ Den judge in the race, and senator Joan Freeman also took the opportunity to canvass at the event in Screggan, Co Offaly, yesterday.
Asked about the upcoming presidential election, Mr Higgins said: “I am very much looking forward to the campaign, I have never run away from a campaign in my life, for goodness’ sake, and I have been delighted to have answered questions for about 30 or 40 years in relation to campaigns. I am looking forward to it.”
However, he said the matter of his participation in the presidential debates still “has to be settled”.
“It all has to be negotiated, my campaign team will be discussing this,” he said.
“Let’s have a campaign now that deals fairly with real issues, let it be about real issues and let it be dignified.”
Mr Higgins received a resounding seal of approval in the Irish Examiner/ICMSA poll released this week. The survey of farmers revealed that 87% believe he has been a good president.
Ms Freeman, who was visiting the agricultural event for the first time said Mr Higgins should take, part in all the debates and still sees the current president as her biggest rival.
“As you saw in the polls recently, it’s very evident that Michael D Higgins has the strongest of all chances but it’s early days and we have another few weeks to go so let’s see how things go over the next couple of weeks,” she said, pointing out that Mary Robinson was on 1% in the polls prior to her election as president.
Mr Gallagher, accompanied by his wife Trish, said the campaign is only properly beginning now.
“All the candidates will outline our vision for the future for the next seven years and I think Ireland is facing many changes and much unpredictability and so the next presidency will be about a new face, a new image, a new vibrancy to face those challenges,” he said.
“All the candidates, we will outline our vision over the next six weeks and it will be for the electorate to decide on polling day.”
Mr Duffy said he was encouraged by the number of people who had approached him at the Ploughing Championships to say they would be voting for him.
“I am ambitious for Ireland and what can be achieved through the presidency, fully aware of the constitutional constraints on it, the political framework in which it must operate,” he said.
“I know I can differentiate myself from the other candidates. It’s six weeks, it’s a long long time in politics, I believe there is going to be a very interesting battle.”