Friday 20 October 2017

Senator will run against Higgins if president goes for second term

Senator Gerard Craughwell. Photo: Tom Burke
Senator Gerard Craughwell. Photo: Tom Burke
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

An independent senator will challenge Michael D Higgins for the presidency if the incumbent goes back on his word to only serve one term.

Speculation is mounting that Mr Higgins wants a second term after he refused to rule out the possibility.

During the 2011 election campaign, the former arts minister said he would only serve for seven years - but he already has the backing from senior political figures, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, to stay in office until 2025.

There is a growing consensus in political circles that the 76-year-old would like to stay on but is not keen on a potentially gruelling election campaign.

Senator Gerard Craughwell, however, told the Irish Independent he will seek a nomination for the presidency in order to force a vote.

Mr Craughwell, a former president of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, said he believes Mr Higgins has been "a marvellous President" but he should stick to his word.

"It's the principle of the thing," he said, adding: "You have to stand up to the plate on that.

"I've known Michael D since a young teenager. He has always been a man of the highest probity and character. I don't begrudge him a second term but I just think this was all wrong."

Mr Craughwell first became a senator in 2014 after running against Fine Gael's John McNulty, who was at the centre of a cronyism row.

In order to secure a nomination for Áras an Uachtaráin a person must get the backing of at least 20 TDs and senators, or four local authorities.

Mr Craughwell said he will wait to see Mr Higgins's declaration before deciding which route to follow, adding that he will tour local authorities if necessary.

He has not yet devised a strategy for funding, adding: "I have no money. I have no idea how I'd go about that yet."

However, the Galway man said if he does enter the race he intends to be a serious contender.

"I don't ever enter a race without being serious about it. I will be very serious," he said.

Asked whether he would put forward a policy platform, Mr Craughwell replied: "The presidential role in Ireland is an honorary role. You are a servant of the State. Your job is to market Ireland. Wherever a government wants you, that's where you go."

He said in the past people have gone into presidential campaigns "putting forward policies and talking about job creation" but that's not the President's job.

"You can't deliver any as a President apart from signing legislation into law and doing it discerningly," he said.

The next presidential election isn't due until October 2018 but potential candidates would be expected to express an interest later this year.

Sources within Fine Gael said they are not keen on contesting what would be a costly campaign if Mr Higgins wants to remain in situ.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald has been tipped as a candidate for the party - but one source said: "There's a high chance of a general election before we even get to the presidential one. That's where resources will have to be focused."

Fianna Fáil is also delaying a decision until Mr Higgins clarifies his position. The Irish Independent understands a number of TDs and senators want the party to put somebody forward, but leader Micheál Martin is cautious.

Mr Higgins's predecessor in the Áras, Mary McAleese, served two terms in office without having to be re-elected in 2004.

Seven candidates contested the 2011 election, which was marred by controversy.

The field included businessman Seán Gallagher, who was favourite to win until he was engulfed in controversy towards the end of the campaign.

Irish Independent

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