President Michael D Higgins and his main rival for the Áras, Sean Gallagher, are set to miss the opening debate in the race for the presidency.
While Mr Higgins will launch his campaign tomorrow, he will not participate in an RTÉ debate for diary reasons. Mr Gallagher has since withdrawn from the debate as all candidates are not involved.
The developments come as the nominating period for presidential hopefuls closes at 3pm tomorrow.
Mr Higgins’ campaign team issued a statement yesterday signalling that he would take part in debates and discussions ahead of the October 26 vote. The statement says the incumbent has “a long record of participating in debates, and is looking forward to engaging with the other candidates, and answering journalists’ questions, over the next five weeks”.
Mr Higgins’s campaign team initially said he would not participate in the planned RTÉ News at One radio debate with contenders tomorrow as it was before close of nominations.
The debate was then moved to Thursday, but the President’s team says he has diary commitments then. Mr Higgins is due to open a student centre in Dublin City University at 11am and will receive the British Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward, at 2.30pm.
We have told RTÉ that he is constrained this week because of pre-existing presidential diary commitments on Thursday and Friday,” read the statement.
Mr Gallagher has said he will not engage in debates without all candidates involved. “Election debates are an important part of the democratic process and they need to be centred on the principle of inclusivity and fairness for all candidates. It is therefore crucial that all candidates are treated equally and that debates should include all candidates,” his team said in a statement.
“Sean Gallagher has publicly committed to participating in all debates which include all candidates.”
The developments mean there will likely only be the remaining four candidates involved in the debate: Pieta House founder Joan Freeman, businessmen Gavin Duffy and Peter Casey, and Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada.
RTÉ said the News at One programme reaches 346,000 listeners across its full duration. In the event that a candidate is not available, the programme will broadcast, on air, their reason for not participating.
Mr Gallagher will lodge his nomination papers today while those for Mr Higgins were delivered to the Customs House yesterday. Mr Higgins also asked voters to give him a second-seven year term.
At this important time for our nation I am once again offering to serve, and I am asking the people of Ireland to place their confidence in me,” he said.
Trade union leader Bernard Harbour and public affairs consultant Paul Daly, both former Labour government advisers, will help oversee media management for Mr Higgins’s reelection campaign.
Meanwhile, journalist Gemma Doherty was making last-minute efforts to secure more council votes for her nomination after councillors in Laois backed her.
However, the prospective independent candidate faces a challenge trying to secure other councils, after Cork and Kildare Counties both declined to endorse Ms Doherty yesterday.