The Irish presidential election is heating up as the deadline for nominations closes at the end of September. The election will be held at the end of October, and will be for a seven-year term.
It now looks likely that Sinn Fein will enter a candidate, which certainly throws an interesting new dynamic into the mix.
It makes perfect sense for Sinn Fein to compete. Fianna Fail has decided not to enter a candidate, abdicating their position as the largest opposition party.
Sinn Fein can step into that breach and declare themselves the real opposition to the current government.
With opinion polls also showing that the Labor Party, the minority party in government with Fine Gael, is suffering in the polls, Sinn Fein clearly see the opportunity to become the alternative voice in Irish politics.
Sinn Fein’s problem appears to be choosing a candidate. The obvious ones, such as Martin McGuinness and Mary Lou McDonald, are very likely unavailable given the importance of their current positions.
Meanwhile, David Norris, for long the front-runner before being forced to withdraw, looks like he may jump back into the race.
The Trinity College senator, who is gay, found himself at the middle of a major dispute over comments he made about underage sex with boys. It forced him out of the race and it seemed very unlikely he could re-enter at the time.
However, buoyed by opinion polls saying he is still in with a real opportunity to win, the Sunday Independent stated that he was likely to announce he would run again on the Late Late Show on Irish television this weekend.
He may be making a major mistake. The aftermath of the Cloyne Report, where the issue of abuse of children arose again, makes it very inhospitable territory for any candidate with an opinion on such topics that is already highly controversial.
The front-runner remains Michael D. Higgins, the Labor Party luminary who visited London this week to speak to Irish emigrant organizations there.
Higgins spoke powerfully of the Irish emigrant contribution, and promised to make emigrant voting in presidential elections a real issue on his agenda.
The other main contender is Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael, who should be doing far better in the polls given his party’s popularity, but he is struggling to shake off the image of being an abrasive politician and a party hack ill suited to the presidency.
The two independent candidates are Mary Davis, former head of the Special Olympics, and businessman Sean Gallagher. Both are trailing in opinion polls but could still pull off a surprise.