Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins, has "represented Ireland brilliantly abroad", and in his values, ideals, and vision, is what is needed now at home and abroad, during this era of political turmoil and the rise of far-right populism on the continent.
The Mayor of Galway, Labour city councillor Niall McNelis, has welcomed Uachtarán Higgins' statement, issued on Tuesday, confirming he will "be offering himself as an Independent candidate, under Article 12.4.4 of Bunreacht Na hÉireann", when the Ministerial Order for a Presidential Election is made later in the year.
"I am absolutely delighted Michael D Higgins has decided to seek a second term as president," Mayor McNelis told the Galway Advertiser. "He has done everyone proud in that role. He has represented Ireland brilliantly abroad."
The move came as little surprise. The President had been hinting for some time that he was interested in a second term in office, despite saying on the night of his election in 2011 that he would only serve one term.
Speaking in County Mayo on Tuesday, Uachtarán Higgins explained his change of mind: "Many, in recent conversations with me about our country and its future, have expressed an opinion that I should offer myself again as a candidate," he said. "I am grateful to have had their advice, and indeed to have had the opportunity of reflecting on their suggestions. I have given long and careful consideration to this decision. 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 and possibility, at home and abroad."
It is a view shared by Mayor McNelis. "President Higgins has evolved into the role and the role has morphed around him," he said. "As a legislator, he understands the role of the president and the Council of State, and it's important we have someone who is confident and knowledgeable in the legal, constitutional, roles of the head of State. He and Sabina have opened the doors of Aras an Uachtarain to local, voluntary, and community groups. He is an academic, an intellectual, a poet, a feminist. He ticks all the boxes for the Left and liberal voters and he ticks boxes many politicians and leaders in Europe, who are on the political right or are populists, do not tick."
Widespread support for a second term
Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin said his party would, “from top to bottom”, support a second term for Michael D Higgins. Labour leader Brendan Howlin also welcomed the decision, and his party will also be supporting the President. Fine Gael is also likely to support Uachtarán Higgins's bid. An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said this week: “President Higgins has done a wonderful job over the past seven years, ably assisted and supported by Sabina. He’s been great overseas and carries himself with enormous dignity."
'If it goes to a vote, so be it, the people will decide, but if there is to be a presidential election, bring it on!' - Mayor Niall McNelis
Under the Constitution, the President is permitted to seek a second term unopposed. However there is strong speculation that a presidential election may still go ahead next year, as Sinn Féin is interested in putting forward a candidate. The party will make a decision on the matter on Saturday. Independent senators Gerard Craughwell and Padraig Ó Céidigh, along with Senator Joan Freeman, have also expressed an interest in running. Any candidate for presidency must obtain the support of 20 members of the Oireachtas or of four county councils, in order to be eligible to stand.
"The majority of the main political parties have said they will endorse Michael D Higgins, many Independents have said so as well. Sinn Féin would have the Oireachtas numbers to support fielding a candidate," said Mayor McNelis. "In my opinion, I believe Michael D has always been of the view that he would not want to stop anyone running for the presidency. If it goes to a vote, so be it, the people will decide. At the moment, Sinn Féin are the only ones with the numbers to do that. I hope there won't be an election, but if there is, bring it on!"
A safe bet to return to the Arus?
Boyle Sports was offering odds of 1/2 that Uachtarán Higgins would receive an uncontested run for a second term last week, however it is now offering odds of 5/6 that a candidate will contest the presidential election. Regardless of a contest, Boyle Sports makes Uachtarán Higgins odds-on of 1/10 to win the election, should there be one.
Uachtarán Higgins is currently 77. He was aged 70 when he originally ran for office in 2011. At the time some raised the question of whether he was too old to seek the position. The question has cropped up again, but in a more muted form, but Mayor McNelis said the question is a distraction and irrelevance.
"I don't think it should be discussed," he says. "We are beginning to go beyond age, gender, sexual orientation. The presidency is a role Michael D Higgins will be able to play for the next seven years. We will next year be commemorating the War of Independence and in 2022 the Civil War. Michael D Higgins' father was involved in both those events, and so he will be ideal to lead the State throughout the commemoration of those events. He is the right guy to do the right job. The only people who I hear raising the issue of age are 'wanna-be' candidates that are unlikely to get nominated. I don't hear anyone else talking about it."