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Friday 29 September 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# Race for the Áras
The next President of Ireland - ranked from most to least likely
Michael D Higgins is the man to beat.

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION is viewed by many as a one-horse race.

Since announcing his intention to seek a second term in office, Michael D Higgins is widely seen as a shoo-in.

It was unclear if anyone would challenge him, or indeed if he planned to run again himself, until earlier this month.

While running for office in 2011, Higgins (77) said he would only seek one seven-year term but recently changed his mind.

Since officially announcing his bid for reelection on 10 July, there has been much speculation as to who may challenge him.

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“I believe there are good foundations for the further development of the office of  president and that the experience I brought to and have gained within the role could be of particular value as we enter a period of great challenge but also of possibility at home and abroad,” Higgins said at the time.

Independent Senator Gerard Craughwell was the first contender to throw his name into the ring last August, saying it was important than an election took place.

However, he bowed out yesterday, saying he could not afford to finance a campaign.

In a statement, Craughwell said putting himself forward “opened up what has been the first serious national conversation on the presidential nomination and election process”.

The senator said he feared that Oireachtas members and local councillors would have been prevented by their parties from backing a potential candidate.

Seanad By-Election Count Mark Stedman / Gerard Craughwell Mark Stedman / /

Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour are all backing Higgins’ bid. Sinn Féin, meanwhile, plans to run its own candidate. A candidate needs the support of 20 Oireachtas members or four local authorities to get on the ballot.

Craughwell said, as a number of potential candidates have said they would seek a nomination, he was “satisfied that [he has] achieved the objective [he] set out last August”.

“I will now stand aside and take no further part in the process other than to wish each and every candidate success in their campaign,” he said.

Another rumoured candidate was former GAA president Liam O’Neill but he ruled himself out on last night’s The Tonight Show on TV3, giving similar reasons to Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates.

“I don’t have the logistical group that it takes to undertake a campaign like that… My position was that I’d never said I’d stand but that I’d consider it, and I’m not standing,” he said.

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So, who is expected to contest the election? And how are they likely to fare?

We’ve ranked the potential (and confirmed) contenders, from most to least likely.

1. The incumbent 

Quite simply, the man to beat.

Michael D Higgins was a member of the Labour Party from 1968 to 2011 and previously served as Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht in the 1990s, as well as a TD and senator.

mdh Brian Lawless / PA Wire/PA Images President Michael D Higgins Brian Lawless / PA Wire/PA Images / PA Wire/PA Images

His tenure as president is widely seen as successful, with many people viewing him as unbeatable – something highlighted by the fact Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour are all backing him.

Higgins comprehensively topped the poll in 2011 – with more than one million votes. A second term in office is highly likely.

2. Sinn Féin’s candidate

The main challenger to Higgins looks set to be whoever Sinn Féin decides to run. A subcommittee, chaired by TD David Cullinane, is currently looking into selecting the party’s candidate.

A number of names are reportedly in the running, including MEP Liadh Ní Riada, Belfast-based solicitor John Finucane, MP Michelle Gildernew and artist Robert Ballagh.

TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin was also in the mix after announcing his intention to retire from politics earlier this year, but he has since ruled himself out.

90340593_90340593 Mark Stedman / Liadh Ní Riada Mark Stedman / /

Speaking to RTÉ Radio 1′s News at One yesterday, party leader Mary Lou McDonald said she wouldn’t “speculate” on who’s in the running.

Responding to a later query from the, in a statement she said: “I am not going to take a view or speculate on individual names.

I have heard a number of names mentioned and certainly we have no shortage of prospective candidates but I do not think it would be fair or appropriate for me to begin speculating at this stage.

The subcommittee is expected to report back to the party’s Ard Comhairle in the coming days.

When asked about Craughwell’s decision to step aside, McDonald said: “I think it’s a pity as he was very keen to run. I think he was the first person to advance the case for an election and I wish Gerard and his family well.”

Announcing the party’s decision to field a candidate, McDonald said on 14 July that a presidential election could be “a very positive thing for Ireland“.

It is right that we give this generation the opportunity to be part of a wider conversation about what a better Ireland should look like.

“These citizens should be given the opportunity to be part of deciding who our president is. Those under the age of 25 have never voted in a presidential election. They shouldn’t have to wait until the age of 32 to have this opportunity.”

3. An independent senator

Craughwell may be out of the running but fellow independent senators Joan Freeman and Pádraig Ó Céidigh have also expressed an interest in challenging for the Áras.

original Sasko Lazarov / Joan Freeman at a Darkness Into Light promotion event Sasko Lazarov / /

Freeman, the founder of mental health charity Pieta House, has written to a number of county councils seeking their support for a potential bid.

In her letter, she said she is seeking the nomination because she believes the presidency must prioritise “the well-being of the nation, physically and mentally” and deliver “the best quality of life for Irish people here and abroad”.

original Freemans' letter to councils

Ó Céidigh, an academic and founder of Aer Arann, is also said to be considering his options.

Both Freeman and Ó Céidigh are perhaps better known for their work outside politics. Pieta House, the suicide and self-harm prevention charity, has become a household name across Ireland in recent years – as has its flagship event, Darkness Into Light.

Ó Céidigh, meanwhile, has served on the boards of RTÉ and Fáilte Ireland.

Despite their relatively high profiles, neither are likely to beat Higgins.

4. An entrepreneur 

Former presidential candidate Seán Gallagher, who lost out to Higgins in the 2011 election, has written to all councils in Ireland asking that they formally set aside time to discuss presidential nominations.

Gallagher said he had been contacted by a large number of councillors from around the country who’d expressed concerns about the “very limited time frame” that now exists to allow a prospective candidate receive a nomination.

He said: “In the interest of democracy and the widest electoral choice possible, I would appeal to you to ensure that you and your council colleagues exercise your constitutional right to nominate a candidate if you so wish.”

Rather than running for election himself for a second time, it’s thought he may back fellow businessman and former Dragons’ Den judge Gavin Duffy.

Could Duffy emulate Gallagher’s near success? It’s a possibility but having at least one senator in the running is more likely.

5. A debt campaigner 

Over the weekend, David Hall’s name was also thrown into the mix.

9902 homeless_90521618 Leah Farrell / David Hall Leah Farrell / /

A vocal debt and homelessness campaigner, Hall is the CEO of Irish Mortgage Holders and the owner of Lifeline Ambulance.

The Sunday Independent reported at the weekend that independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice is attempting to drum up support among Oireachtas colleagues for an independent candidate.

He told the newspaper that two independent councillors based in the south of the country put Hall’s name forward.

Hall expressed an interest in the role in a Hot Press interview last November.

Speaking to yesterday, Hall said he was considering running and will make a decision on the matter later this week.

Things have changed, Gerard Craughwell is out of the running. Others may enter, others may not. Some councillors are looking at various people, there’s a variety of different conversations happening.

Hall said he was engaging with councillors on the issue out of respect, adding that he was “humbled by the approach”.

He said he was weighing up a number of things, including how he could balance work and family commitments with a potential campaign.

“Everything is being considered at the moment,” he told us.

6. An outsider 

Artist Kevin Sharkey has also expressed an interest in running, contacting a number of local councils to gauge support.

File Photo Internationally famous Irish artist Kevin Sharkey has been homeless for months, after falling victim to Ireland's accommodation crisis. Sharkey - whose fans include Kate Moss and the late Whitney Houston - was the darling of the art world and m Kevin Sharkey

Another name appearing across news stories is barrister and Irish Times columnist Noel Whelan.

Seeing as we didn’t even know if there would be a presidential election until recently, the field is suddenly looking quite full – or potentially quite full, at least. Watch this space.

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