Wednesday 21 August 2019

Joan Freeman: Senator defends bid for presidency despite losses of €253,000

Challenge: Presidential candidate Joan Freeman. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Challenge: Presidential candidate Joan Freeman. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Senator Joan Freeman has said her run for the presidency is "one of the best things" she has done despite her campaign spending more than €250,000 on the failed bid for Áras an Uachtaráin.

Ms Freeman had the second highest level of expenses disclosed to the State's election watchdog, with spending of €253,194 declared.

Only President Michael D Higgins spent more on the 2018 election, which saw him win a second seven-year term. His campaign saw expenses of €367,338 disclosed to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo). However, while Mr Higgins was reimbursed €200,000 due to his share of the vote, Independent Senator Ms Freeman, who finished in fifth place, did not qualify for getting any of her spending back.

Asked if she had any regrets about running given the lack of any reimbursement, she insisted the election was "one of the best things I have done in my life". She added: "I travelled the length and breadth of the country, I challenged myself, and came through the whole experience with a renewed love for my country."

Ms Freeman - who founded suicide prevention charity Pieta House - highlighted the issue of mental health throughout the campaign.

On the day of the count Ms Freeman said she wasn't disappointed in the result. She said: "I got everybody talking about mental health, including Michael D Higgins."

Ms Freeman's filings to Sipo show that €61,000 was spent on "publicity" and €74,700 was listed in the "other election material" category. This included €20,992 spent on Facebook ads and €1,665 on Twitter ads.

The records show that Ms Freeman enlisted the advice of former Fianna Fáil government minister Noel Dempsey at a cost of €18,450. The invoice from Noel Dempsey Consulting shows a "consultancy fee" of €15,000 and VAT of €3,450.

Mr Dempsey was asked to work with Ms Freeman due to his former role as director of elections for former President Mary McAleese's successful 1997 campaign. His LinkedIn page says that 25 years in national politics "gives me a unique insight into all levels of government and public administration in Ireland".

In total, Ms Freeman's campaign spent €90,734 on campaign workers. Ms Freeman's campaign disclosed donations of €24,000 from individuals who donated more than €600. Among the contributors listed is Des Walsh - a US-based millionaire and Ms Freeman's former boyfriend - who donated €1,000.

Mr Walsh also provided a €120,000 loan for Ms Freeman's election bid.

Irish Independent

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