GAY BYRNE announced today that he will not be a candidate for the Presidency.
The veteran broadcaster told Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin that he did not want to put his name forward in the election for the Aras.
The decision, just before 1pm, ended mounting speculation about his intentions and will come as welcome news to the other candidates - especially Labour's Michael D. Higgins and Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell who were both beaten in polls by him.
Mr Byrne told RTE that he had made the decision after consulting with his family and because he did not believe he was what the Irish people were looking for in a President.
He said he had been overwhelmed by the messages of loyalty, support and regard as well as offers of practical help, but the run at the Aras had been foisted on him before he knew what it would involve.
He said aspiring to be President was a “worthy objective" and extended his best wishes to the other candidates in the race.
Originally Mr Byrne said that he would be issuing a statement about his intentions next Wednesday, as one of his daughters will not be back from France until Monday and he wanted to speak to her about his decision.
However, feverish speculation over the last week, that looked unlikely to abate, is believed to have convinced him to announce his intentions sooner.
Close friends had been saying privately for days that he had made up his mind not to run.
"I believe he has made up his mind not to run, but he has been astonished by the reaction of the public and the media," one close friend said last night.
"Again and again, I am being told there is no rush on me. Everybody is on holiday. Micheal Martin is on holiday. All of Fianna Fail are on holiday.
"Anybody who has anything to do with this, apart from the media, is on holiday. So I don't have to make up my mind, " Mr Byrne told the Irish Independent just last night.
He added: "Mary McAleese declared seven weeks before the election and she is the President. Seven weeks in this case is in the middle of September and we are only just in the middle of August. Yes, I am still considering it (running for presidency) and the only people who are pushing me are the newspapers."
But one close friend said: "I told Gay he would be better served by ending the speculation before the weekend. I believe he has made up his mind not to run but he has been astonished by the reaction of the public and the media."
Other friends said that no matter what he decided to do, Mr Byrne's best interests would be served by ending the speculation soon.
"If this goes on through the weekend and into next week, a lot of people will be very disappointed if Gay decides not to be a candidate," another friend said.
He added: "Gay has been around long enough to know that the media will turn against him if they feel he has led them on and then let them down."
Mr Byrne's interest in becoming president dominated the news over the past week as he delivered a series of teaser comments about becoming a candidate from his holiday in Donegal.
The public's fascination with the veteran broadcaster as president was matched by the media frenzy at the Grand Canal Theatre on Wednesday.
The three declared candidates were this afternoon breathing a sigh of relief if Mr Byrne, the most popular candidate according to an opinion poll published on Thursday, is not running against them.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who rang Mr Byrne and urged him to declare as a candidate last weekend, is likely to face criticism within his own parliamentary party.
Mr Martin did not inform his deputy leader Eamon O Cuiv about approaching Mr Byrne, although Mr O Cuiv had expressed an interest in being Fianna Fail's candidate.
MEP Brian Crowley, who is interested in running, but has not so far declared as a candidate, was level on 13pc with Fine Gael's candidate Gay Mitchell.
But the Labour Party candidate Michael D Higgins, who was seven points behind Mr Byrne -- the most popular choice at 28pc -- will expect to pick up support with Mr Byrne out of the race.
- Sam Smyth and Ken Sweeney
The signature is neat and precise and placed just above the words 'Gabriel M (Mary) Byrne, Director'. Next to it is another signature: Kathleen T Byrne, Gay Byrne's wife of 47 years, his confidante, business adviser and co-director of 'Gabbro Limited', the company which serves as the vehicle for Byrne's business earnings.
The success of broadcaster Gay Byrne in effectively hijacking the presidential election is a sad commentary on the quality of the candidates on offer. With Fianna Fail seemingly determined to sit it out, the presidential election was Fine Gael's to lose.