Cormac McQuinn: The race for the Áras is on
PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has announced he will seek a second term in Áras an Uachtaráin.
It’s a move that will surprise no one that's been keeping an eye on his public comments in recent months.
On one recent trip to New York he said: "I've never ran away from a contest in my life".
And it appears he is ready for a possible fight.
Mr Higgins had ruled out seeking another seven years during his run for the presidency in 2011.
But that was a long time ago.
During the same trip to New York Mr Higgins (77) insisted he "absolutely" has the energy and capacity for a second term - perhaps a bid to dispel any talk that his age might be a factor this time around.
Mr Higgins's statement this morning is brief but confirms he is putting himself forward as a independent candidate and that he has informed the government of this.
The government - and Fine Gael in particular - will have to consider how it will respond.
Fianna Fáil has already said it will support Mr Higgins's bid for a second term.
All the indications are that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's party will follow suit.
Sinn Féin has yet to decide on its approach, but leader Mary Lou McDonald has said that she’d like to see a Presidential election take place.
Independent Senators Gerard Craughwell and Pádraig Ó Céidigh have expressed an interest in running for the Presidency and have put pressure on Mr Higgins to declare his intentions.
Another Independent Senator, Joan Freeman, has been seeking support for a nomination herself.
Unlike Mr Higgins they can’t nominate themselves and must either get the support of 20 Oireachtas members or four local authorities.
Meanwhile, Mr Higgins has an undoubted advantage as the man already holding the office.
His statement said his programme of official duties and engagements continues.
The next 24 hours will see him welcome Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle to Áras an Uachtaráin.
It’s hard to imagine a better photo op to kick start a Presidential campaign.
It’s over to the potential contenders to see if there will be an election.
The coming hours, days and weeks will tell if any of them will ultimately step up to the plate and seek to oppose the incumbent president – and if they can get the support to do so.
One thing is certain, Mr Higgins’s announcement has put it up to them to challenge him.
The race is on.