Hume could be candidate for Irish presidency

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The Independent Online
John Hume, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, is considering standing for the Presidency of the Republic of Ireland, following overtures from the political establishment in Dublin, it was revealed yesterday.

Mr Hume, a key figure in the Northern Ireland peace process, has been approached by both main political parties and described himself, in an interview with the New York Times, to be "tending towards the offer".

In the interview, Mr Hume said that following approaches from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, he had begun thinking about how he might replace the outgoing president, Mary Robinson, who leaves office next month. She is due to become the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

"I would be a super salesman for Ireland, trying to bring investment and jobs here," he is quoted as saying. The two main parties were said to be planning to shelve plans to field their own candidates against him.

But his ultimate acceptance of the position may depend on the all-party talks at Stormont, which are due to resume on 15 September. Mr Hume's part in the process was said yesterday to be so critical that nationalists would be opposed to his withdrawal. So he may be tempted to delay his decision until he sees how the talks proceed.

Mr Hume was at a religious retreat in Scotland yesterday, and neither he nor a spokesman for the SDLP were available for comment. But the Foyle MP would be a popular choice among the Republic's electorate. In recent opinion polls, he had emerged as a clear choice of voters for the presidency.

More bizarrely, Dana, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest for Ireland in the Seventies, has also been suggested as a candidate. She now lives in the United States and sings on funding-raising religious programmes.

Mr Hume's declaration would probably scupper hopes of existing hopefuls including Fine Gael's Mary Banotti MEP, a grand-niece of Michael Collins, and her sole party rival, Avril Doyle. The former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, and the former justice minister, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, are said be interested in the running for Fianna Fail, the main government party. Its leadership would prefer the former European Union Commissioner Ray MacSharry to run as someone with stronger electoral appeal.

Nominations for the presidency close at the end of September, with an election set for 30 October.