Sunday 11 December 2016

Miriam has time to make up her mind on Aras run

Published 16/08/2015 | 02:30

Miriam O'Callaghan
Miriam O'Callaghan

RTE managing director of News and Current Affairs has told the Sunday Independent that he has "no problems" with Miriam O'Callaghan presenting Prime Time as speculation mounts that she may consider running for the presidency in 2018.

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Speaking for the first time in the midst of Ms O'Callaghan's continual refusal to confirm or deny the claims, Bakhurst said the possibility of her running for office poses no conflict of interest.

"She has got two and a half years to make up her mind," he told the newspaper. "Would you know what you were doing in three years?

Ms O'Callaghan was a noticeable absentee at the launch of RTE's autumn schedule. Usually she is centre stage at the showcase.

She is currently holidaying with husband Steve Carson, former Director of Programmes at RTE.

Mr Bakhurst said the presenter's absence was coincidental and was not to avoid questions on her presidential ambitions.

The RTE boss said: "She was asked to come and she said: 'I'm sorry it's the only week Steve and I can get away'. We would have loved her to be here but she's on holidays, so fair enough."

There are murmurs among some that presidential ambitions and Ms O'Callaghan's role presenting the nation's flagship current affairs programme are incompatible.

To run as an independent for the Presidency, candidates must be nominated by at least four of the 31 county or city councils

But Mr Bakhurst has said this will not present any conflict of interest - even though a key component of her job in RTE is interviewing politicians.

Asked if it would be fair on the other candidates if O'Callaghan did end up running after getting so much airtime on the national broadcaster, Mr Bakhurst said: "You'll have to ask them when the time comes."

A statement released by RTE last month read: "The presidential term of office for the incumbent president, President Higgins, is not due to expire until October 2018.

"There is therefore no presidential campaign currently taking place, or imminently falling due. In the event of any RTE staff or contractor declaring their interest in an upcoming campaign, there are clear and robust procedures to ensure that a conflict of interest does not arise."

Ms O'Callaghan has repeatedly declined to quash rumours she wants to take over from President Michael D Higgins, including when she was quizzed by a guest on her own Saturday chat show.

Former British government spokesman Alastair Campbell, said to Ms O'Callaghan: "You're going to be the next President."

"Don't mind him," the presenter told the audience.

Ms O'Callaghan refused to answer Mr Campbell.

Speaking at the launch of the Oireachtas Children's Future Health Group, Ms O'Callaghan refused to rule out the possibility of running for the presidency, saying the 2018 vote is "miles down the road".

"I never even said anything in my life about running for president," she said. "Who knows what anyone's going to do in two or three years' time? It's miles down the road.

"I don't know where this has come from. We have a brilliant president at the moment," she said.

Members of the Oireachtas broadcasting watchdog say RTE and Ms O'Callaghan has an obligation to clarify the position - especially after the handling of the last presidential election and the controversy over the final debate involving then frontrunner Sean Gallagher.

Fianna Fail Senator Paschal Mooney said it was "incumbent" on Ms O'Callaghan to clarify the matter to maintain the "independence and integrity" of the presidency

Sunday Independent

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