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Tuesday 25 September 2018

President plans series of foreign trips - but it's not a farewell tour

President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina are greeted by Minister Nikos Pappas in Athens yesterday at the start of their state visit to Greece. Photo: Maxwell Photography
President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina are greeted by Minister Nikos Pappas in Athens yesterday at the start of their state visit to Greece. Photo: Maxwell Photography
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

President Michael D Higgins is to embark on a series of foreign trips in the coming months ahead of an expected tilt at a second term.

Áras an Uachtaráin has sought permission from the Government to leave the State at least four times between now and the summer break, the Irish Independent understands.

The first of these trips formally gets under way today in Greece.

Sources say the other trips all factor in "very presidential" elements, including an address to the United Nations in New York.

Mr Higgins, who is one of the most travelled presidents in Irish history, is also expected to attend events in Switzerland and Lithuania.

The President requires sign-off from the Cabinet to leave the country, even if it is for personal reasons.

On Tuesday, ministers were told that he had a "number upcoming engagements". However, while some speculated it might be a 'farewell tour' it now appears that Mr Higgins is planning to seek a second term.

Sources told the Irish Independent they believe the 76-year-old is keen to stay in office but would prefer not to have to engage in what could be a gruelling campaign.

He previously indicated that he would remain silent on the issue until as late as September. His seven years in office expire in early November.

It is now believed he will clarify his intentions in July.

Senator Gerard Craughwell has said he has the backing of 20 Oireachtas members needed to get his name on the ballot paper. This rules out the possibility of Mr Higgins getting a second term uncontested.

News that Mr Higgins is planning to seek a second term has reignited speculation in Leinster House as to how the main parties will approach such an election.

Fine Gael sources say its preference would be to sit out a vote that would cost in the region of €500,000.

A senior figure noted that it is "highly possible" there will be a general election this year and that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has previously said Mr Higgins is doing a "fabulous job".

It is understood the President has not given Mr Varadkar any indication of his intentions.

Fianna Fáil's justice spokesman Jim O'Callaghan said his party still has to discuss the matter. The Dublin Bay South TD's sister, Miriam O'Callaghan, is among the names being tipped as a potential candidate.

New Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said recently that she believes there should be a contest. However, a party spokesman said that a decision has yet to be made on whether it would enter the race.

During his visit to Greece, Mr Higgins will be the guest of honour at a state dinner hosted by President Prokopios Pavlopoulos.

Irish Independent

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