Belfast Telegraph

President Higgins will face Sinn Fein runner if he wants second term

By Kevin Doyle

Irish President Michael D Higgins will have to fight an election if he wants a second term - as Sinn Fein is preparing to nominate a candidate.

Party chiefs will meet in 10 days to decide on their strategy, but leader Mary Lou McDonald has given a clear indication that they will force a contest.

She said that while Mr Higgins is "a fine individual personally and politically", he should not be allowed to occupy the highest office in the country without a mandate.

"I don't think it's appropriate that the incumbent simply rolls into another term of office seamlessly," she said.

Suggesting that the next President could be in office at the time of a border poll, Ms McDonald said the election could provide a "very healthy debate" about Brexit and changes in Northern Ireland.

Among the party names understood to be in the mix are outgoing Cavan/Monaghan TD Caoimhghin O Caolain and MEP for Ireland South Liadh Ni Riada.

Senator Frances Black has also been suggested as an Independent candidate who the party could help to get a nomination. Sinn Fein votes helped the well-known singer win her Seanad seat in 2016.

Ms Black's name has been circulating among Sinn Fein's TDs, but she is understood to have told Seanad colleagues that she is not enthused by the idea of running against Mr Higgins.

The President is expected to formally announce in the coming days that he wants another seven years in office.

Fianna Fail and a raft of government ministers have already given him their full backing.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is refraining from making a public statement on Fine Gael's stance until after Mr Higgins outlines his intentions. However, senior party sources say the Taoiseach is certain to back Mr Higgins.

Ms McDonald said: "If Fianna Fail and Fine Gael don't want an election, if they believe the first citizen should not have a democratic mandate that I believe they should have, or in the case of President Higgins a renewed mandate if that's what he seeks, then I beg to differ with them."

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