Favourite a no-show for first president debate
Published 30/07/2011 | 05:00
FRONT-RUNNING hopeful Senator David Norris was a no-show at the first public forum for declared presidential candidates last night.
Four of the five declared contestants -- Gay Mitchell (FG), Michael D Higgins (Lab), Mary Davis (Ind) and Sean Gallagher (Ind) -- travelled to Glenties, Co Donegal, for a robust debate on 'The role of Uachtaran na hEireann' at the final night of the MacGill Summer School.
Despite attempts by organisers of the prestigious school to persuade Senator Norris to change his mind, his election team said he was "unavailable".
MacGill director Dr Joe Mulholland described his absence as "disappointing".
"It is not for me to say what they should or shouldn't do but I just think it is a missed opportunity," he said.
Last night all four participants stressed the need to repair Ireland's damaged reputation internationally.
Michael D Higgins said that the big issue candidates had to face was whether they were "for a return to that which brought the country to its knees".
"Are we willing to acknowledge that extreme individualism and selfishness on the part of a minority has destroyed our country, damaged our reputation abroad?" he said.
"How the candidates will divide will be that some will want to recreate that which has gone down. I am not one of those. I believe in building something entirely new."
He revealed his intention, if elected, to run a set of presidency seminars where "the best intelligence from abroad and at home" would be brought together to discuss issues such as how trust in the institutions could be restored.
Gay Mitchell called for a return to a society based on principles -- "a less harsh and more merciful society".
"Yes, there is something broken in our society and I believe the ethos I am proposing has the potential to help us repair that damage and to become not just more ethical and happier but also a more gentle society.
"A republic which nurtures a just society is one, in my view, where the principles of rights, responsibilities, enterprise and social justice are intertwined," he told delegates.
Mary Davis stressed the need to repair Ireland's damaged reputation on the world stage.
"Ireland has a strong story to tell, and there are excellent reasons for investing here, but these reasons are in danger of being lost in the backwash of the negative and critical reporting of recent years.
"I would like to lead an enhanced number of trade missions with growing countries -- such as Brazil, Russia, India and China -- with whom we could do more business," she said.
For Dragon's Den entrepreneur Sean Gallagher, the focus will be on putting enterprise at the heart of the next presidency to help tackle the scourge of unemployment and the negative impact on communities.
"I believe the next presidency should be about getting Ireland back to work, restoring our confidence at home and our reputation abroad.
"Just like President McAleese, I want to set the tone, change attitudes and have a lasting positive impact," he said.