Taoiseach signals that Fine Gael councillors won’t be free to back independent candidates for presidency – Ireland

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has signalled that Fine Gael councillors won’t be allowed to support the nomination of independent candidates for the presidency if the party backs Michael D Higgins for another seven-year term.

Fine Gael TDs and Senators are due to meet tonight to discuss the upcoming presidential election.

The party is widely expected to support Mr Higgins in his bid for a second term in Áras an Uachtaráin.

While Mr Higgins is able to put his own name forward for another term, other potential candidates must either get the support of 20 Oireachtas members or the backing of four local authorities.

Mr Varadkar indicated that Fine Gael councillors won’t be allowed to assist other candidates seeking a nomination if the party decides to actively support a candidate.

He expects the party to come to a decision on its approach to the presidential election tonight.

“Obviously the decision isn’t a simple one as to whether we are contesting or not contesting the election,” he said, adding: “It’s also a decision as to whether we’re going to actively support one candidate or not.

“If we decide to actively support a candidate that will mean active support, not assisting other candidates and contributing to the campaign in all the ways that you normally do in a national campaign.”

“But like I say that’s a discussion that we’ll have this evening and we’ll know the party’s decision before 9:00.”

Fianna Fáil is supporting Mr Higgins while Sinn Féin is considering putting forward its own candidate.

If the main parties’ councillors are instructed not to support other candidates seeking a nomination – and local representatives abide by such orders – it could make it impossible for them to get on the ballot paper through the local authority route.

The independent Senators considering a run for the Áras are Gerard Craughwell, Pádraig Ó Céidigh and Joan Freeman.

Independent minister Denis Naughten wouldn’t be drawn on whether or not he will support Mr Higgins or an independent candidate.

He said: “That’s something I’ll discuss with my own team. I haven’t had the opportunity to do that yet. I will be doing that over the next few days.”

Mr Varadkar and Mr Naughten were speaking after the launch of the government’s Action Plan for Online Safety which sets out 25 measures to be taken over the next 18 months.

Among the actions to be taken are to equip teachers to embed digital awareness in their lessons and develop collaboration with parents.

There’s also a plan to support student participation in safer internet day activities and develop awareness training to build resilience and peer support.

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