ONE of Michael D Higgins's closest advisers has denied that he left the Labour presidential candidate's campaign team due to concerns about his past as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry.
Brendan Halligan, a former Labour Party General Secretary, represented cigarette manufacturers throughout the 1990s, spearheading their campaign to fight tax increases and limit restrictions on advertising.
Mr Halligan has denied that his departure from the campaign was due to concerns in the Labour Party over his links to the tobacco industry, insisting he left because he had "other things to do".
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Labour Party also denied any such unease had been expressed in the campaign, instead saying Mr Halligan had asked to leave for personal reasons.
Mr Higgins, a non-smoker himself, spoke out against the tobacco industry in a June 2002 Dail debate, criticising "those who are making a fortune out of the child abuse that is advertising connected to alcohol and tobacco".
Prof Luke Clancy of anti-smoking group ASH said that, in light of Mr Higgins stance on tobacco, Mr Halligan's initial inclusion on his campaign committee smacked of "hypocrisy".
However, he welcomed the news that Mr Halligan was no longer working to elect the Labour candidate.
Mr Higgins's spokesman did not respond when asked if the role played by Mr Halligan on the campaign amounted to hypocrisy.
But he pointed out that Mr Halligan had been "involved in the Labour Party in a variety of capacities for four decades".
Mr Higgins and Mr Halligan, also a former Labour senator and MEP, have worked together since the early 1970s.
But it is Mr Halligan's career outside the Labour Party that has led to questions about his inclusion in Mr Higgins's election campaign.
The 75-year-old non-smoker's company Consultants in Public Affairs represented the Irish Tobacco Manufacturer's Advisory Committee and the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturersduring the 1990s.
His name appears in more than 120 secret files that the big US tobacco companies were forced to disclose after they settled a class action lawsuit taken by 46 states in the late-1990s.
Asked why he left the campaign he said: "I have other things to do. I never was really on it to be perfectly honest with you."