Higgins faces fight for a second term as SF set to pick candidate
President Michael D Higgins will have to fight an election if he wants a second term, as Sinn Féin is preparing to nominate a candidate.
Party chiefs will meet in 10 days' time to decide on their strategy but leader Mary Lou McDonald has given a clear indication that they will force a contest.
She said that while Mr Higgins is "a fine individual personally and politically", he should not be allowed to occupy the highest office in the country without an electoral mandate.
"I don't think it's appropriate that the incumbent simply rolls into another term of office seamlessly," she said.
Among the party names understood to be in the mix are outgoing Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and MEP for Ireland South Liadh Ní Riada.
Senator Frances Black has also been suggested as an Independent candidate who the party could help to get a nomination.
Sinn Féin votes helped the well-known singer win her Seanad seat in 2016.
Ms Black's name has been circulating among Sinn Féin's TDs - but she is understood to have told Seanad colleagues that she is not enthused by the idea of running against Mr Higgins.
The President is expected to formally announce in the coming days that he wants another seven years in office.
Fianna Fáil and a raft of Government ministers have already given him their full backing.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is refraining from making a public statement on Fine Gael's stance until after Mr Higgins outlines his intentions.
However, senior party sources say the Taoiseach is certain to back Mr Higgins.
The party spent €4.65 on every vote cast for its 2011 candidate Gay Mitchell.
"If Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael don't want an election, if they believe the first citizen should not have a democratic mandate that I believe they should have, or in the case of President Higgins a renewed mandate if that's what he seeks then I beg to differ with them," Ms McDonald said.
Asked whether cost would impact on Sinn Féin's final decision, Ms McDonald acknowledged that it would be "an expensive campaign" against the backdrop of a looming general election. But she added: "I actually think that the presidential campaign is unique.
"It affords, in a fairly non-adversarial atmosphere, an opportunity to debate and to discuss matters. I think we should avail of that.
"It's about the country, it's about direction, it's about big, big politics."
Suggesting that the next President could be in office at the time of a Border poll, Ms McDonald said the election could provide a "very healthy debate" about Brexit and changes in Northern Ireland.
She added that Irish people are not "hostile to elections per se".
Independent Alliance Minister John Halligan was the latest minister to give his full backing to Mr Higgins yesterday, arguing there is no need for an election in October.