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Explainer: How likely is a Presidential election in 2018?

Michael D isn’t set to make an announcement until September – but other candidates may emerge before then.

MICHAEL D HIGGINS isn’t saying whether he wants a second term as president just yet – but either way, we’re due a presidential election next year.

There’s always the possibility that Higgins, who remains popular with the electorate, will simply be appointed to a second term.

Already, though, one Oireachtas member has declared an interest in forcing an election.

It’s also likely other potential candidates have been trying to shore up support behind the scenes.

So how likely is an election in 2018? And who’s likely to be on the ballot?

Here’s how things are looking right now…

plough 628_90523655 Source: Sam Boal

How likely is an election?

Political science lecturer at DCU Eoin O’Malley reckons an Áras race next autumn is “almost certain”.

Sinn Féin have certainly indicated that they want to run a candidate, and I think because of the makeup of the Dáil, there are so many small groups and independents that it shouldn’t be that difficult to get the requisite number of votes.

Candidates need the backing of at least 20 Oireachtas members – members of the Dáil or Seanad – in order to get on the ballot. Alternatively they can go the council route, and secure the backing of four local authorities.

Sinn Féin currently has 23 seats in the Dáil, so would be able to nominate a candidate if they so desired. In case you missed it, Gerry Adams has already said he has no interest. The late Martin McGuinness picked up 13.7% of the vote in 2011.

Do other candidates need to wait for Michael D’s decision?

In short, no.

Michael D Higgins was inaugurated as President of Ireland on 11 November 2011, meaning his seven year term would come to an end on 11 November 2018.

If we are to have an election next year it must be held within 60 days of that date – so the earliest we could have an election is in mid-September.

Michael D has said he’s not going to announce whether he’ll run for the presidency until September.

So we could have a scenario whereby we have one or more declared candidates, and an incumbent office-holder who still hasn’t told voters his intentions.

“He can automatically nominate himself so he just has to put in his name on the ballot before the deadline,” O’Malley said.

He could make it till August or September without declaring whether he wants to or not.

O’Malley said it was possible Higgins could bring forward his planned announcement date if media speculation becomes too intense.

It’s also possible he could let it be known privately whether he intends to run or not, so that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil aren’t scrambling around at the last minute trying to find prospective nominees.

Sanders Aras Visit b_90514099 Michael D Higgins hosts US senator Bernie Sanders earlier this year. Source: Áras an Uachtaráin

What happens if Michael D doesn’t run?

Okay, there are a couple of scenarios here…

If we get to September and there’s only one person nominated for the presidency, and then Michael D announces he will not contest the election, that person would go forward and become president without an election.

Were that to happen, however, it’s likely other parties would get together and nominate at least one other candidate.

Said O’Malley:

I think that’s why Michael D may come under pressure to confirm sooner so Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael don’t have to go around looking for candidates.

What happens if he does?

Almost two-thirds of voters (64%) said they would like President Higgins to remain in office in a recent poll. He’s widely regarded as a good ambassador for the country, and handles State occasions well.

If he opts to go for a second term, Higgins may scare off potential candidates who might otherwise throw their hat in the ring.

He’s unlikely to get involved in the nitty-gritty of campaigning, however.

There’s precedent for this – but you have to go a long way back for a comparable situation. O’Malley noted that in 1966 an elderly Eamon de Valera (he was 83) contested the election without campaigning widely.

More recently, Patrick Hillery and Mary McAleese were elected to second terms unopposed.

For the record, Higgins did publicly declare back in 2011 that he would serve one term only. He’s been rather less definitive on the issue in recent years, however.

90238891_90238891 The lineup for the 2011 presidential election. If he runs for a second term, it's unlikely Higgins will take part in TV debates. Source: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Where do the parties stand?

Fine Gael are widely expected to back Higgins for a second term if he decides he wants one.

“Fine Gael will consider the matter of the Presidential Election when President Michael D Higgins makes his intentions known,” a party spokesperson told us via email.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told us the party doesn’t “have a candidate considered”, adding:

I have been very reluctant to comment on the presidential election too early out because I actually do believe … in an old-fashioned way, that the dignity of the office allows the incumbent to conduct their duties in that space.

It’s thought that some party bosses may not want to go to the expense of challenging Higgins. However, according to a story published in the Irish Independent last Saturday, an overwhelming majority (94%) of councillors want a Fianna Fáil candidate in the race.

Miriam O’Callaghan and former news anchor Anne Doyle were among the names proposed by the councillors, according to the paper.

Labour, for the record, said it was entirely a matter for President Higgins to decide, and that if he ran for a second term he would have the party’s complete support.

We also asked Sinn Féin for their official position:

The party has not come to a decision on the matter as yet. We do believe however that President Michael D Higgins has performed admirably in office.

As for the smaller parties, the Greens said they had made no decision on the issue as yet. Solidarity-PBP didn’t respond to an email, nor did the Social Democrats. The Independent Alliance, as we expected, said they didn’t make decisions on issues like that as a group as they weren’t a formal party.

0029 Bertie Ahern_90507796 Bertie - Áras run? Source: Rollingnews.ie

Who are the potential candidates?

Aside from Higgins himself the only other declared candidate is independent senator Gerard Craughwell, who made his intentions known in August of this year.

Craughwell, a former president of the Teachers’ Union of Ireland, thinks Higgins is doing a “fabulous job” as president.

That’s besides the point, he said.

I am putting my name forward to ensure there is an election. Michael D Higgins gave his word when he was a candidate for president that he would only sit one term.

Roscommon-South Leitrim TD Micheal Fitzmaurice has said he would be open to running if no other independent candidate comes forward, while senator and Aer Arann founder Pádraig Ó Céidigh said he had been approached about running and wasn’t ruling himself out.

Bertie Ahern has left the door open to running. “God knows what will happen next year,” he told Sky News in a recent appearance to talk about Brexit. The former Taoiseach is likely still regarded as politically toxic by Fianna Fáil, however, so it’s probably unlikely he’ll manage to get on the ballot via the Oireachtas route.

RTÉ presenter Miriam O’Callaghan, who was on the Fianna Fáil councillors’ list mentioned above, has long been linked with the presidency, but is seen as unlikely to run against Higgins.

Campaigner David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation expressed an interest in the job recently – and you can expect any number of former and current politicians, sports stars, business people, activists, actors and musicians to be asked about their interest in the coming months.

Really though, it’s too soon to say who else might be interested – we’ll know a lot more in a few month’s time.

File Photo INDEPENDENT SENATOR GERARD Craughwell has said there must be an election for the position of president of Ireland – and that’s why he is throwing his hat in the ring for the job Independent senator Gerard Craughwell is the only confirmed candidate so far - he still needs to get the backing of 20 TDs and senators or four councils. Source: Mark Stedman

If you’re interested, you must be an Irish citizen and aged over 35 to run.

The job comes with a few perks (a house, use of a car or two – that kind of thing) and a salary in the area of €250,000. Which is a pretty nice area.

Read: ‘Could you all just move to the left slightly?..’ Fixed grins and Cabinet divisions at the Áras

Read: Interview: ‘There is a great anger in the country’ – President Higgins

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