It's important for debates to be held
Just a few weeks ago you could have procured generous odds that there would be no election and that Michael D Higgins would be returned to Aras an Uachtarain unopposed. It would be a coronation rather than a contest.
And, in fairness, there seemed every reason to believe this was so, which is probably why some of those mooted at the time as prospective challengers, like the broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan or Fine Gael's Mairead McGuinness, decided not to allow their names go forward. (The Michael D factor was most likely in play too when Fianna Fail's Eamon O'Cuiv more recently decided to stay out of the race). After all, the political "mystics and statistics" were telling us there was no alternative. The President had done a good job over the past seven years and was popular; he had the backing of the two main parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, neither of which would field a candidate to oppose him; and even Sinn Fein did not seem to have fully made up its mind.
Now all is changed. Michael D Higgins is still the only candidate guaranteed a nomination, since he can nominate himself, but Sinn Fein has the requisite 20 Oireachtas members to nominate a candidate, which they now plan to do; and members of the local authorities of all parties seem keen to have their say in who should be allowed stand, irrespective of what those in their party headquarters think.