Last Sunday, the great and the good gathered on a cold and breezy O’Connell St for the annual Easter Rising commemoration, writes Daniel McConnell.

The pomp and ceremony was impressive and the stirring rendition of ‘Amhrán na bhFiann’ complete with air corps fly past was memorable.

But what stuck in my mind was the genuine outpouring of good wishes from the general public, in the cheap seats, to President Michael D Higgins.

Unlike Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Defence Minister Paul Kehoe or Dublin Lord Mayor Mícheál Mac Donncha, Mr Higgins was greeted with warm applause as he exited his car.

Not a mere smattering of a few isolated claps, but genuine warm applause, spontaneous and not co-ordinated.

Another man who did not raise any reaction in the gathering was the man who is seeking to depose Mr Higgins, Independent senator Gerard Craughwell.

After the ceremony concluded, invited guests made their way into the General Post Office for a sandwich and a cup of tea to warm their bones.

While Mr Varadkar stayed stuck in one corner, talking to a few dignitaries but not mixing generally, Mr Higgins worked the room — he and wife Sabina were in their element.

Stopping to pose for selfies and more formal photographs, the President also made time to chat with working press photographers on duty.

Sabina Higgins President Michael D Higgins during a Commemoration marking the Anniversary of the 1916 Rising on Easter Sunday at the GPO, Dublin. Pic: Gareth Chaney Collins
Sabina Higgins President Michael D Higgins during a Commemoration marking the Anniversary of the 1916 Rising on Easter Sunday at the GPO, Dublin. Pic: Gareth Chaney Collins

He made his way over to a small gathering of print journalists, was warm in his well wishes to those of us he remembered from his time in Leinster House, and extended good wishes to a newer colleague just starting out on her career in political journalism.

I tell all this because he worked the room like someone does when they are up for election.

Warm, engaging, welcoming, Mr Higgins has clearly enjoyed his time as President and it is clear the majority of the country, based on successive polls, have been satisfied with his performance too.

But he has a problem.

In 2011 he said he would only serve one term.

Despite his insistence that he would be a one-term president, there is growing support for Mr Higgins to run again next year.

“It isn’t my intention to serve a second term, I look forward to this one that I am beginning,” came the response from the stage to my question minutes after he was confirmed elected as President.

Last year, he was pressed on the matter by RTÉ broadcaster Sean O’Rourke at the National Ploughing Championships.

Michael D Higgins to decide if there’s a presidential campaign

Mr Higgins said his decision would be known by the time this year’s Ploughing takes place in September.

Asked about the issue last month, he did not say he would make his decision at the 2018 championships but that his decision would be known by then.

The President appeared to suggest his decision to seek re-election would be announced before the championships. The President said he was not seeking to be an impediment to others running for the office.

Mr Higgins said he had a full programme of events into the late spring of next year and he would concentrate on those before making a decision on running for a second term.

“When the time comes at an appropriate time, I will say what it is. I will take everything into account. I will decide what it is how I might best contribute to Irish society at that time,” he said on Monday.

I emphasise as well that I did not say, for example, ever, that it would have to wait until the ploughing championship next year. I said that by then the information on what I was doing would be available. They are not the same thing.

Then about a month ago, a story by Fiach Kelly in the Irish Times made it clear that political figures, ie the Labour Party, were of the view the President wants another term.

All the way along, Mr Craughwell has insisted there should be a race and he is adamant he has the necessary 20 signatures from Oireachtas members to force a contest.

Last weekend, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald weighed in to the debate, adding her voice to the calls for a contest, claiming her party has “hundreds” of suitable candidates while also ruling out Gerry Adams for the post.

She stopped short of saying she would force an election, saying that will be decided in due course.

Then Bertie Ahern, the former taoiseach, said he would be interested in the position — but not now.

Speaking to me this weekend, he made it clear that to his mind, even if there is a race, Mr Higgins would be unassailable.

Michael D Higgins to decide if there’s a presidential campaign

“I think he will run and he will be an elected. Whether there is or isn’t an election it won’t make any difference,” he said.

“He would be targeted but I don’t see any strong contender to take him on. Now I have no problem with an election, I am a democrat, as you know. If he wants to stay another while... I don’t want that job until I am about 90. I am too young for that job,” he said.

Until last night, it had seemed that broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan had put the cat among the pigeons with a possible presidential run.

She had repeatedly failed to rule out whether she will run for the presidency after being questioned on the matter at a charity event.

However, when pushed about her presidential ambitions, she failed to clarify if she was going to run for Áras an Uachtaráin later this year.

“We have a wonderful President,” was all she would say at the time, before tweeting definitively last night that she was not going to run.

There had been speculation that she would be the candidate of choice for Fianna Fáil but there is a clear reluctance to force a contest should Mr Higgins decide to stay on — given we are staring down the barrel of local and European elections in 2019 and there is a very real chance of a general election before that.

There is a similar reluctance within Fine Gael’s upper echelons to contest the presidency and it is known that Mr Varadkar would be more than happy to allow the President a free run at a second term.

While no one should have an automatic right to a second term, the truth of the matter is that Michael D Higgins’s apparent desire to continue on and the clear wish among the major parties to avoid an election combined could see him safely over the line.

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