Wednesday 12 December 2018

Fiery exchanges mark first Presidential debate featuring all six candidates

Presidential Candidates in studio with Pat Kenny for Virgin Media Television's Presidential Debate
Presidential Candidates in studio with Pat Kenny for Virgin Media Television's Presidential Debate
President Michael D Higgins pictured tonight as Presidential candidates arrived at Virgin Media Television Studios in Dublin for Virgin Media Television's Presidential Debate with Pat Kenny. Picture: Brian McEvoy Photography
Sean Gallagher and his wife Trish pictured tonight as Presidential candidates arrived at Virgin Media Television Studios in Dublin for Virgin Media Television's Presidential Debate with Pat Kenny. Picture: Brian McEvoy Photography
Gavin Duffy pictured tonight as Presidential candidates arrived at Virgin Media Television Studios in Dublin for Virgin Media Television's Presidential Debate with Pat Kenny. Picture: Brian McEvoy Photography
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

THE first televised presidential debate including all six candidates saw some fiery exchanges on the issue of Traveller rights, the record of the incumbent Michael D Higgins and presidential expenses. We look at some of the standout moments of the debate on Virgin Media One:

Michael D Higgins accuses Peter Casey of 'fantasy'

Michael D Higgins took issue with what he called a “fantasy list” of charges put to him by candidate Peter Casey throughout the campaign to date. 

“Peter makes many charges,” he said, drawing attention to a claim made during the debate - which he has fully refuted - that Mr Higgins once objected to a temporary halting site near his home in 1968. 

“Peter makes many charges,” he said, referring to the list as a “fantasy list”. 

Mr Casey alleged during the debate that Mr Casey flew from Geneva to Zurich on a private jet to visit a James Joyce memorial, which Mr Higgins rejected roundly, before concluding “just add it to the list”.

Mr Casey also questioned the sitting president flying to Belfast using the Government jet for an official engagement and having a driver meet him there, which Mr Higgins said was due to security concerns.

The issue of presidential expenses was raised by many with Mr Higgins saying he would be happy to rectify any discrepancies from his own pocket but insisted that the accounts will be fully balanced and independently audited. 

Tense exchanges on the ethnic minority status of Travellers

In his opening pitch Mr Casey said he is “incredibly proud” that Ireland has opened its doors to people coming from different countries.

He said that today in Ireland 17pc of the people who live In Ireland today were not born here and are “passionately” embracing Irish culture.

“They’re not demanding special recognition of their ethnicity because they have embraced ours,” he said.

His comments come after he claimed Travellers should not have a special recognition, sparking calls from him to withdraw from the race.

Last year the State officially recognised the ethnic minority status of Travellers.

Mr Casey rejected a call from Gavin Duffy to withdraw his marks, saying he stands by them.

The incumbent, Michael D Higgins, said the granting of ethnic status was of “enormous significance” for Travellers, who he said face issues such as a lower life expectancy and higher suicide rates.

He fully rejected a claim put to him by Peter Casey that he objected to a temporary halting site near his home in 1968.

He said he has never objected to a halting site and said in his work as an elected representative has pursued Traveller rights.

Mr Casey also accused the other candidates of being “disingenuous” when they said they would not have a problem with Travellers moving near their home.

Joan Freeman tells Gavin Duffy she 'does not need rescuing'

Joan Freeman took aim at the support the incumbent president has from Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil.

She said that by supporting Mr Higgins the Government are indicating it is “OK to break promises, OK not to be transparent and accountable”.

The Senator faced questions from host Pat Kenny about her No vote in the Referendum on the Eighth Amendment and whether she could represent the people of Ireland, almost 70pc of whom voted Yes.

Ms Freeman said she did not believe the people of Ireland would be judgemental and said she voted in a personal capacity and her position was not related to her public service.

Rival candidate Mr Duffy said he believed the Virgin Media host was wrong to suggest her vote precluded her from the role.

“We have to be very careful about how we are disqualifying people from public life,” he said 

Joan Freeman interjected to say: “Thank you, I don’t need rescuing.” 

Heated exchange between Pat Kenny and Liadh Ní Riada on the IRA

Sinn Féin presidential candidate Liadh Ní Riada has refused to call the IRA terrorists during the debate.

She was pressed by host Pat Kenny on a Hot Press interview during which she said she was "uncomfortable" with using the word terrorism to describe IRA atrocities such as Bloody Friday, the Warrington bomb and Birmingham pub bombings.

The MEP was asked if she believed that the Enniskillen bombing was a terror attack she said: “I think any atrocities like that should be condemned but look the IRA are gone for the last 20 years. We now have a peace process in place and we should be cementing that and working on building that rather than constantly revisiting what labeling and semantics and all of that,” she said.

She went on to say: “I would say that we are now at a new time in our history and we need to be grown up enough to own that and say ‘let’s cement the peace process’">

Challenged by the host Pat Kenny on whether former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams was a member of the IRA she said: “The IRA are gone, you keep bringing it back.”

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