Wednesday 13 November 2019

Live presidential debate: Jibes at missing candidates, a heckler's interruption and a surprise 'poppy' statement

All four candidates criticised President Michael D Higgins and Sean Gallagher for not showing up for the campaign's first live television debate
All four candidates criticised President Michael D Higgins and Sean Gallagher for not showing up for the campaign's first live television debate
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

JIBES at the missing Sean Gallagher and Michael D Higgins, a notable contribution for Liadh Ní Riada on wearing the Poppy and an interruption from a satirical objector marked the first TV debate of the presidential election campaign.

RTÉ host Claire Byrne chaired the first debate but only four of the candidates were present: Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Liadh Ni Riada and Peter Casey.

Questions about their presidential priorities, the timing of the examination of Áras spending by the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the heads of state they would refuse to meet were among those put to the candidates by the audience.

All four candidates hit out at two missing candidates for not attending the debate.

Ms Ni Riada said it showed “contempt” for the Irish people and Ms Freeman suggesting it showed an air of entitlement.

Mr Duffy said that the public hasn’t heard much from Mr Gallagher in seven years and said he should be there to speak to the electorate.

Mr Casey meanwhile claimed that Mr Higgins could not defend the indefensible and alleged that the incumbent failed to defend questions over spending put to him in during Saturday’s Radio One Live debate, forcing a spokesperson to get in touch with the show to say that claims about the costs associated with the president’s dogs were untrue.

The intervention lead to another flurry of calls from the candidates to say that the president should have attended the debate.

Among the more notable interventions on the night was Ms Ni Riada confirming that she would wear a Poppy on Armistice day to show how Ireland has matured.

The commemoration falls on the same day as the inauguration in November.

She admitted that some members of her party may not be happy with her decision to do so but said she would do it for the greater good.

Mr Duffy however said that, while the comment from Ms Ni Riada was welcomed with a round of applause, he did not agree that the president should wear any symbol but said a president could mark the occasion by laying a wreath in an appropriate way.

The debate did not pass without incident as a woman who hit headlines for presenting a satirical presidential bid for the Áras race before Dublin City Council also made her voice heard as she heckled Peter Casey.

The candidate attempted to talk through the interruption of Norma Burke, otherwise known as Bunty Twuntingdon McFuff, but the programme was forced to an ad break.

During her intervention Ms Burke said: “I’ve had enough, Bunty was robbed”.

A spokeswoman for RTE said: “Audience selection was founded on open applications from members of the public. The audience was selected by an external company to be representative both geographically, politically and demographically of the electorate.”

Ms Burke was removed from the studio and the incident was not referred to in the second half of the programme.

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