FG contenders must step back to give Higgins clear run to Áras, says Hayes
Fine Gael politicians with notions about running for the presidency need to step back and endorse Michael D Higgins for a second term, MEP Brian Hayes has said.
In comments unlikely to sit well with his fellow MEPs Mairéad McGuinness and Sean Kelly, Mr Hayes insisted his party should fully back the incumbent.
"I have not seen any potential other candidate with the credibility and understanding of Michael D Higgins," Mr Hayes told the Irish Independent.
He said Mr Higgins, who is expected to announce his intention to seek a second term in the coming days, had "the overwhelming support" of the public. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar repeated yesterday that Fine Gael would not take a position on running a candidate until the President announced his next move.
Both Ms McGuinness and Mr Kelly have previously spoken about their interest in seeking the party's nomination for Áras an Uachtaráin.
Asked whether his comments were aimed at them, Mr Hayes replied: "Sean and Mairéad are terrific colleagues. I know they want to stand in the next EU elections."
The Dublin MEP said he had backed Mr Higgins in 2011 because of his "outstanding qualities" prior to Fine Gael nominating Gay Mitchell as the party candidate.
"We are from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum on many issues, but I've always respected him," he said, adding that Mr Higgins was likely to be "head and shoulders" above any other candidate that might emerge.
In New York yesterday, Mr Varadkar said it was up to other candidates "to come forward and seek a nomination if they wish to" but reiterated that Fine Gael will not be rushing to put somebody forward and will instead await a statement from the President.
Independent Minister Finian McGrath bucked the trend yesterday by saying he favoured a presidential election in October.
He said the office could not be the subject of complacency or a "cosy consensus" and there should be "a challenge".
He predicted that there would be a challenge from Independent candidates in the coming weeks and that the country would face a presidential election in autumn.
He said he had engaged in private discussions with potential candidates but was holding his counsel as to who he would support.
"Hopefully we can get somebody to challenge this status quo, challenge the cosy consensus that's in Irish society and have an election," he said. "It's good for democracy, it's good for the future of the country, and what's wrong with that?"
But Children's Minister Katherine Zappone joined the growing chorus of support for Mr Higgins, describing him as a leader who has united the country and a voice for those who are often denied a voice.
"As the only Independent woman in Cabinet, a campaigner and an activist, I share President Higgins' commitment to family, community and jobs for our people," she said. "I also share his vision of an Ireland which uses its voice loudly for a prosperous, peaceful and sustainable world order.
"Whether offering the hand of friendship to migrants, members of the Travelling community and those who are homeless, or forming new and lasting relationships with other world leaders, President Higgins has been a source of pride for us all."