President Michael D Higgins has refused to rule out running for re-election when his current term in office ends in 2018, despite a previous pledge to be a one-term president.

He made the comments while speaking to reporters at a gathering of 500 Irish and Irish-Americans at Filoli House in Silicon Valley, San Francisco.

The president is currently on an eight-day trip to the states of Washington and California.

On the night of his election in 2011, President Higgins said that he did not intend to seek a second term in office. That position now appears to be softening.

When asked about it, he said that he was not saying yes and not saying no at this point, but that "in the fullness of time when it was appropriate" he would address the issue. 

He said it was premature for him to decide now as it was just past the mid-term point of his Presidency.

He said he was very happy about how his Presidency was going and how he had been able to continue to work with themes he had set out during his inauguration and the papers he had written during the campaign. 

He said there had been a "certain fit" to those papers which were available on his website, but he was now moving on to deal with the issues of global debt, development migration and global macroeconomics.

President Higgins said what he was trying to do at the moment was to bring a "some kind of moral compass" into the decision-making that was affecting so many lives, especially around matters such as 60 million displaced people on the planet. 

He said he had received good feedback from other heads of state that what he was doing was working.

He added that he was "sometimes not optimistic" about the "atmosphere about academic institutions and the political discourse, and the debate about reforming the UN", fearing that it had "been left aside at this stage".

Criticising the pace of decision-making at the UN and the EU, President Higgins said he looked at the slowness of the decision-making process "with a certain amount of despair often".

He said when people came together to "take decisions that affect humanity and affect Europe and affect very large numbers of people you cannot ever justify your slowness by saying these issues are complicated".

On the discourse taking place at educational institutions, President Higgins said he felt it was up to people like him to make the case for the debate or discourse of a topic.

He added that it was "up to the academic institutions including at home in Ireland" and at places like the University of California at Berkeley (where he will deliver an address late Monday), "to allow their students to rise to it and let them have a pluralist education". 

Berkeley tragedy

President Higgins paid tribute the Irish community in the San Francisco Bay Area for the help they provided at the time of the Berkeley tragedy.

Six young people died and seven were seriously injured when the balcony they were celebrating a birthday party on collapsed on 16 June. 

He praised how people responded "within milliseconds" to come to the aid of the families of those affected, adding that there was an incredible mobilisation of support right across the Irish community.

He said nobody would ever forget it and it was unforgettable and moved everyone at home in Ireland "greatly".

President Higgins will attend a special function on Wednesday afternoon to personally thank the first responders and some of the volunteers who assisted those involved in the tragedy in June. 

He will then proceed to the civic park in Berkeley, near to the Library Gardens apartments where the incident happened, to plant a tree with the Mayor of Berkeley in memory of those who lost their lives.