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Thursday 14 December 2017

McGuinness launches attack on Gallagher's FF links

Independent Presidential Candidate Seán Gallagher and his wife Trish arrive at Google, Barrow Street ahead of the Live Google/Newstalk Debate. Photo: Tony Kinlan
Presidential Candidate Sean Gallagher and his wife Trish arrive for presidency candidate debate hosted by Google and Newstalk, at Google Headquarters in Dublin. Photo: PA
Presidential Candidate Seán Gallagher pictured during the Live Google/Newstalk Debate in Google, Barrow Street. Photo: Tony Kinlan

Ed Carty

SINN Fein presidential candidate Martin McGuinness has launched one of the harshest attacks during the campaign and accused opponent Sean Gallagher of links to Fianna Fail.

"Sean Gallagher's party wrecked the economy, destroyed the economy, brought about mass unemployment and emigration," the Sinn Fein candidate said in the live Google/Newstalk debate.

Mr McGuinness said that voters must decide whether they want a representative of an establishment party elected to the Aras.

"We have a very difficult budget coming up in December. €700m of the people's money will be paid out to unguaranteed bond holders. The choice is very very clear," he said.

"People can decide to continue with the same old, same old or they can vote for someone who represents a break from the past and someone who looks to new beginnings and who wants to stand by the ordinary people of Ireland at this very difficult time."

"There's no doubt that some people would say Sean has been up to his neck in Fianna Fail," Mr McGuinness said.

Mr Gallagher said he has never been in denial about Fianna Fail links.

The independent said he would be happy to accept votes from all supporters and drew comparisons with outgoing President Mary McAleese, who was the Fianna Fail candidate in 1997.

"I've never been in denial," he said during the debate.

"This is not a party political election and nor should it be. We stand here as individuals."

Labour candidate Michael D Higgins said it is up to the public to look at different backgrounds and manifestos and warned that he believed about a fifth of voters remain undecided.

"I've no doubt at all in my mind that all the candidates are people who love Ireland in their own way. The issue is about who has a track record of turning vision into practical reality," the Labour veteran said.

"Every single thing I did, from being a councillor right to a TD to a minister, was turned into a reality. That's why I have such a solid core of voters."

Mr Higgins said transfers from every source will be hugely important and he will secure them from all quarters.

Independent presidential candidate Mr Gallagher holds a commanding lead over his rivals for the Aras as the campaign enters the last few days.

Several polls have put the former Fianna Fail man well in front, with Labour's Michael D Higgins banking on across-the-board transfers to run close.

The seven candidates have gone head-to-head today in live debates with Google and Newstalk radio hosting a midday broadcast before RTE's Frontline hosts the last television debate.

The latest opinion poll, an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI survey, gives Mr Gallagher twice the support, 40pc, he had three weeks ago.

Mr Higgins will require a huge swing this week to go close on the first count.

All of the other candidates have lost support since the last poll. Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness has cemented third place while support for Senator David Norris and Gay Mitchell of Fine Gael has continued to fall.

Mary Davis has dropped into joint last place with Dana Rosemary Scallon.

Voters go to the polls on Thursday with the final four days of tough campaigning expected to ratchet up attacks on Mr Gallagher's past links to Fianna Fail and business background.

And with Mr Higgins about 15pc behind Mr Gallagher in the polls, his party leader Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has demanded the independent open up about his ties to Fianna Fail.

"I think the onus is on him to respond to that commentary - we have more of it again today in relation to his fundraising activities for Fianna Fail. These are issues that he needs to address," Mr Gilmore told Newstalk radio.

"I don't think that it's adequate that he simply dismisses it and passes it off because these are the kind of things that continue to be part of the story after the election."

Ahead of the debate, Mr Gallagher accused opponents of negative campaigning.

"The big challenge now is for me as an independent I don't have the party machine to get the voters so I'm relying on the people in the country to ... actually make sure they come out and vote on Thursday," he said.

He hit out at the continuing question marks over his ties to Fianna Fail.

"This is part of the negative campaign that has continued. I've said all along this is a presidential election. I'm going to act presidential before the election, not just after it," he said.

"I call on all candidates to continue in the next couple of days to lift the lid on this debate and make it above negative campaigning."

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