Fianna Fáil to back Higgins if he runs for a second term
Fianna Fáil will back Michael D Higgins for a second term as President if he decides to seek re-election.
In a move that will make it more difficult for anyone to challenge the incumbent, Micheál Martin has told his TDs and senators to support the ex-Labour Party minister.
This means they will not be allowed to sign nomination papers for other potential candidates, such as senators Gerard Craughwell or Pádriag Ó Céidigh, who have indicated they would consider running for the Áras in the event of a contest.
A Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting backed the leader's decision despite its membership having voted in favour of fielding a candidate at an ard fheis last year.
Mr Martin said the President had "served the country with great distinction over the course of his first term, both at home and around the world".
"He enjoys widespread support across the country and has demonstrated his understanding and connection with communities across a broad range of issues in recent years.
"His national leadership during our celebration of the centenary of the Easter Rising set the absolutely correct tone, and as we approach a series of centenaries of potentially more divisive events in our shared history, his experience and leadership will serve the country well," Mr Martin said.
Attention will now turn to the Fine Gael party, which has also shown little interest in contesting a presidential election in October.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has previously indicated that he would like to see Mr Higgins serve a second term.
Independent Senator Mr Craughwell's one-man mission to cause a presidential election yesterday received a boost as politicians weighed in behind his call for a vote.
Three senators and two TDs told the Irish Independent they are in favour of a presidential election and would consider nominating the senator.
However, Mr Craughwell is still some way off securing the nomination which would allow him to campaign to succeed Mr Higgins in Áras an Uachtaráin.
The Fianna Fáil decision has vastly reduced the number of Oireachtas votes available to Mr Craughwell.
However, the senator said he is still confident he will receive the backing of 20 members of the Oireachtas, which would enable him to compete in an election.
The Fianna Fáil decision came as the Cabinet formally discussed a date for a presidential election, which can be held at the latest on November 10.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy told the Cabinet an election order will have to be signed by mid-August if a presidential election is to be held on the same day as referendums planned for late October.
In an attempt to gauge the level of support for Mr Craughwell's campaign, the Irish Independent asked every TD and senator if they would be willing to nominate the senator.
Independent senator Rónán Mullen said he was in favour of having an election and would nominate Mr Craughwell.
The pro-life senator said "unless a person is a complete scoundrel" he or she should be allowed to run.
"I am not sure how serious Gerard is about the proposal but I will certainly be inclined to look favourably if formally asked, but will not make a definite decision until much later," he added.
Galway East TD and former Independent Alliance Minister Seán Canney said he was open to backing an Independent candidate for the presidential election and would consider Mr Craughwell's nomination.
Cork South-West TD Michael Collins also said there should be an election and insisted the next president should address the amount of taxpayers' money spent by the office.
"The biggest issue I have is the expenditure of the presidency, it's absolutely outrageous," he said.
"I've seen the President go through the city of Dublin, there won't be half as much cavalcade when the Pope comes."
Independent Senator Victor Boylan also said he was in favour of an election, but said he had not decided who he would nominate.
Mr Craughwell said he is still confident he will get a nomination.
"People are playing their cards close to their chest but I am confident I will get the numbers once the serving President finally makes his intentions clear," he said.
If the Independent senator does not receive the backing of 20 members of the Oireachtas he can seek a nomination from four local authorities.
Mr Craughwell said it would be a "big mistake" if Mr Higgins sought a second term.
"The President has done a great job over the last seven years but even some of his most loyal supporters have told me he has nothing more to bring to the role," Mr Craughwell said.