Miriam O'Callaghan: 'an extraordinary and unimaginable honour'

RTÉ presenter Miriam O'Callaghan has emerged as a surprise contender to succeed Mary McAleese as president of Ireland next year.

O'Callaghan is increasingly seen by political parties as a potentially formidable candidate who would have the correct mix of profile and credibility. Speculation is growing in political circles about her suitability for the post.

The current affairs anchor and chat show host did not rule out throwing her hat into the ring when contacted by the Sunday Tribune, but said that standing for the office of president "would be such an extraordinary and unimaginable honour that I wouldn't dare talk about it."

One senior Fianna Fáil figure said that "O'Callaghan would be a very strong candidate", while a Fine Gael source said that, even though the party has not considered approaching her, she would present "an incredible modern image for Ireland".

A Labour party source said: "If she was interested in running she would have to have an argument beyond, 'I'm known'. She would have to have a cause or an agenda in mind."

However, political analyst Noel Whelan said, "the concept of Miriam O'Callaghan running for president is attractive on a number of levels. Firstly, much of the evidence would suggest that the public mood is a non-political, if not anti-political one. She also has the advantage of being outside the political system, yet being extremely high-profile and really competent on political issues."

O'Callaghan told the Sunday Tribune: "I have not been approached by any political party in relation to the upcoming presidential election. You are just one of quite a number of people who have contacted me in the past few weeks on this issue – a number of local radio stations also called, based on apparently local phone polls. At the moment, I am just very busy focusing on my job, my charity work and my family."

She also stressed that she was "apolitical, in that I am not in any way affiliated to any party and never have been. As a current affairs anchor that is an absolute essential prerequisite in my book."

The major stumbling block that O'Callaghan would face is securing the support of a political party or of four county councils to secure a nomination to stand in the 2011 election.

However if a general election is held before the presidential election – with Fine Gael and Labour forming a government – there would be a "strong attraction" for all the parties in having an agreed candidate, the Fine Gael source said. Asked if O'Callaghan would fit the bill as an agreed candidate the source replied: "My guess is she would".

Although her brother Jim is a Fianna Fáil councillor, O'Callaghan is not seen as being in any way affiliated to the party. MEP Brian Crowley has long been regarded as the most likely Fianna Fáil candidate.

Labour has been linked with running Michael D Higgins or Fergus Finlay. Sitting MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Sean Kelly have been mooted as possible candidates for Fine Gael. Of the non-aligned figures Senator David Norris, Special Olympics chief executive Mary Davis and now O'Callaghan are seen as credible options.