Sinn Féin confirms it will field a candidate for the presidency

Mary Lou McDonald says Ireland and the world have changed since the last election

Sinn Féin has confirmed it will field a candidate to stand against Michael D Higgins in the upcoming presidential election.

After a meeting of the party’s Ard Comhairle this morning, party leader Mary Lou McDonald said a candidate would be put forward in the coming weeks.

She said the party had appointed a Presidential Election Commitee to oversee the process of selecting a candidate.

The committee will be chaired by Waterford TD David Cullinane.

President Higgins is currently the only person to have officially entered the race - after Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Labour all announced they would be supporting his bid for a second term.

A number of independents -Joan Freeman, Gerard Craughwell and artist Kevin Sharkey - have expressed interest, however they have yet to achieve the required number of nominations. 

Announcing her party's decision this afternoon, Mary Lou McDonald said Ireland has changed a huge amount in the past seven years and insisted allowing the president to run un-challenged would be "unhealthy" for Irish democracy.

"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," she said.

"These citizens should be given the opportunity to be part of deciding who our President is.

"Those under the age of twenty-five have never voted in a Presidential election.  They shouldn’t have to wait until the age of thirty-two to have this opportunity."

She commended President Higgins and his wife Sabina for the manner in which they have represented the country over the past seven years, but insisted a new election “can be a very positive thing for Ireland.”

“We are entering this race because we want to bring our vision for the future of all of Ireland to the people,” she said.

“We will seek during the campaign to have a progressive conversation about building a new, agreed and United Ireland. And we will ask the people to endorse that vision for the future.”

She said the party is preparing for an all-Ireland campaign that is about "electing a president for all" - and insisted the country has undergone a "generational shift" in outlook in recent years. 

"I think there is a real appetite now to ask questions of Ireland; of Irish society and of our future that certainly five or ten years ago were not on the table," she said.

"This is our opportunity to do that.

"We had a very thorough discussion - a long meeting - but our people are up for this; Sinn Féin is ready for this and we are actually looking forward to the campaign and all of the opportunities that it will present."

Deputy McDonald said the party is not just there to make up the numbers.

The party has not outlined a deadline for its selection process but the selection committee will report back within ten days.

The Ard Chomhairle will then meet again to confirm the candidate.