Higgins moves closer to second term with Fine Gael's backing
President Michael D Higgins took a step closer to a second term in office last night as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced Fine Gael will actively support his candidacy.
Speaking after a Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, Mr Varadkar said his party decided to back Mr Higgins as he had "done a fantastic job over the last seven years".
The Taoiseach said his party would not be assisting other candidates who put their name forward for nomination.
He also said Fine Gael would consider giving funding and resources to Mr Higgins's campaign.
"It's my view that if we're going to support the President, we should do so in a wholehearted and meaningful way and that means campaigning for him, and it means not assisting other candidates," the Taoiseach said.
The move is a major blow to Independent candidates who have been seeking a nomination to enter the presidential race.
There are now fewer than 40 votes up for grabs in the Dáil and Seanad for Independents seeking a nomination.
The long-expected announcement from the Taoiseach followed a short debate among Fine Gael TDs and senators about the presidential election which is due to take place in October.
Around 12 Fine Gael members spoke on the debate, with the vast majority supporting Mr Higgins's candidacy.
Nine people spoke in favour of supporting Mr Higgins and two spoke without stating their preference.
However, one party member, Louth TD Peter Fitzpatrick, is understood to have called on the party to put forward its own candidate.
Mr Fitzpatrick said MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Sean Kelly would make good Fine Gael candidates.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil councillors who defy Micheál Martin and support the nomination of a presidential candidate are expected to escape punishment.
Party sources said they believed it would be impossible to control councillors who wanted to back a nominee or abstain on a vote to allow a nomination.
The Labour Party is meeting today to formally discuss supporting President Higgins's campaign for a second term in office.
Meanwhile, Dublin City Councillor Mannix Flynn said he was aware of people in "certain civil groups like gay pride" who were considering put forward a candidate.
He said the representatives of a "new Ireland" who have been to the forefront of public debate in recent years have a responsibility to take part in the Presidential campaign.
"I think what's going to happen here is there's now a situation where there's a massive door opened.
"A lot of people speaking in circles I'd be involved in would like to put themselves forward for office. They are not dismissing the idea," he said.
Among the names mentioned by Mr Flynn was gay rights campaigner Rory O'Neill, who is also known as Panti Bliss.
Mr O'Neill previously speculated that he might consider a run but did not reply to messages last night.