A loyalist leader has described the husband of Irish President Mary McAleese as the “perfect candidate” to take over from her.
Martin McAleese received the ringing endorsement from UDA leader Jackie McDonald, who was one of the controversial loyalist leaders he helped bring in from the cold.
“I think it would be perfect for everybody concerned if Martin was to take the position,” he said.
Mr McDonald praised the work of Dr McAleese, who played games of golf with him and other loyalist leaders in locations such as the K Club in Kildare.
It was part of Dr McAleese's efforts to support his wife's “bridge-building” initiative by breaking down the distrust loyalists held for the Irish government.
Mr McDonald said that Dr McAleese had the qualities needed to become Irish President.
“Although he's the president's husband and he's always there with her, Martin's one hell of a character himself. And he can be diplomatic, he can be very good at negotiations and he certainly stuck the rough journey sometimes,” he said.
Dr McAleese is the latest person to be tipped as a contender for the Irish presidency, following the withdrawal of Gay Byrne and David Norris from the race. But even McDonald himself admitted that he doubted if Dr McAleese would put himself forward, given the 14 years his wife had spent as president.
“I speak to Martin quite regularly; he was in Italy last week and we were talking on the phone and it's never been mentioned, honestly,” he said.
If Dr McAleese was to enter and win the presidential race, it would mean that the McAleese family would hold the office for a continuous 21-year period. However, he was recently appointed to the Irish Senate by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and also as chancellor of Dublin City University's governing authority.
A source close to Dr McAleese said he had dealt with the matter during a Late Late Show interview in December 2009, where he said he would not be a candidate.
“This situation has not changed. This is a total non-runner,” the source said.
Originally from Belfast, Martin McAleese is a member of the Irish Senate and the husband of the current Irish President Mary McAleese. He has a well-known relationship with senior UDA figures. He is understood to have held a series of meetings with Jackie McDonald and other UDA leaders to discuss their concerns about working class loyalist communities. As a result, he drew up an action plan and asked the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to contribute £5m to a project aimed at regenerating loyalist areas where the UDA has a strong presence