Belfast Telegraph

Speculation grows over Sinn Fein's presidential runner as MEP Boylan rules herself out

By Shona Murray

Sinn Fein's Dublin MEP Lynn Boylan has ruled herself out of the Irish presidential race as speculation mounts over who the party will choose to challenge Michael D Higgins.

Ms Boylan confirmed yesterday that she will not run for Poffice.

However, her Brussels colleague Liadh Ni Riada, who is the Sinn Fein MEP for Ireland South, has not done so yet.

Ms Ni Riada is a native Irish speaker who served on the board tasked with setting up TG4.

She has strong cultural links as the youngest daughter of Irish composer and musician, Sean O Riada.

Sinn Fein may yet look for a candidate outside the political establishment.

There is also strong speculation that it will select a woman to run.

Speaking at the weekend, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald pointed to the successful abortion referendum campaign as an example of a "changing Ireland".

Some Sinn Fein insiders believe a candidate from this network of activists could also suit the party.

Ailbhe Smyth, the long-time feminist and activist, is a name that has been mentioned by observers.

"A new generation has become politically engaged and has been central to changing Ireland for the better, as we saw in the marriage equality referendum and in the referendum to remove the eighth amendment," said Ms McDonald.

"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."

Meanwhile, former Dragons' Den star and businessman Gavin Duffy is to launch his bid for the Aras within the next 10 days.

A spokesperson for his campaign said they believe they have the support of around nine councils.

In order to enter the race, a candidate needs the backing of four councils.

An insider in Mr Duffy's camp said he had been giving the matter "serious consideration for some time".

He said the team is well-prepared for the robust campaign.

"Everybody will say to you it's a bear pit, a blood bath", they said, before adding "you're putting yourself at the highest office and any candidate has to be fully tested".

"People don't want a President that would embarrass the country, they have to be fully tested.

"We won't play dirty with anyone else. For example, we won't be questioning President Higgins' age, or his decision to run twice, even though he said he only wanted one tenure," they added.

Meanwhile, other names like Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, and Rory O'Neill, aka drag queen and gay rights activist Panti-Bliss, have ruled themselves out.

However, Panti said while she does not want to run against President Higgins, she may run next time around.

"I wouldn't say never cos as the old saying goes... and I do think I would be pretty good at the job," she said. "I think our current President is doing a great job."

Mr Higgins confirmed last week that he plans to seek a second term as head of state and will offer himself as an independent candidate.

A number of independent senators, including Gerard Craughwell, Joan Freeman and Padraig O Ceidigh, have also expressed an interest in running as a candidate when the Ministerial Order for a Presidential Election is made later in the year, as has artist Kevin Sharkey.

At the last presidential election in 2011, the late Martin McGuinness ran for Sinn Fein, attracting 243,030 votes and finishing third behind Mr Higgins and independent Sean Gallagher.

Belfast Telegraph

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