Thursday 17 January 2019

The gloves come off for Aras candidates in radio debate

FIGHTING TALK: Candidates Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Sean Gallagher, Michael D Higgins and Liadh Ni Riada in RTE. Photo: Tony Gavin
FIGHTING TALK: Candidates Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Sean Gallagher, Michael D Higgins and Liadh Ni Riada in RTE. Photo: Tony Gavin

Alan O'Keeffe

Presidential candidate Peter Casey has said he doesn't think candidates were too hard on President Michael D Higgins during yesterday's RTE radio debate.

"I don't think people were ganging up," said Casey. "He didn't show up before and he's not showing up for the next debate so I think it's fair game."

He said the President, who spent the opening minutes fending off questions on presidential finances, had "far too much time" on air.

"I'd like to see what the timing worked out at. It seemed that he got a lot more time than the rest of us," he said.

He said the President still has "a lot of explaining to do" about how taxpayers' money is spent. "He was very clearly uncomfortable when we started probing."

Asked if disrespect was shown to President Higgins, he said: "Absolutely not. I think he was disrespectful to some… That's debate. Everyone is equal in that debating room." He did not think it unfair to raise the age question, saying: "It's not my fault he is the age he is."

Gavin Duffy said there was no agreement among candidates to go after the President but said he felt "slightly uncomfortable" about the focus on President Higgins. He said the President told him afterwards that he felt he was "the centre of attention" for a while. Duffy said he stood by his earlier claim about RTE being a 'Michael D fan club'. He said it was 52 years since an incumbent fought a presidential election and it was time "to look at the rules of engagement when there is an incumbent".

President Higgins decided to turn his on-air grilling to his advantage, commenting afterwards: "That's great, another one that we can blow out of the water and that is that Michael D Higgins doesn't get hard questions.

"I've been answering hard questions since 1969."

Joan Freeman was unhappy, saying: "I think we lost our listeners for the first 20 minutes because it all revolved around finance, budgets, and business that the Dragons had. We lost the plot there."

She brought up, again, how 200,000 were mobilised by the Darkness into Light walks she organised and how thousands of lives were saved by her suicide prevention charity. "The focus on the economy and Dragon businesses - we need to stop doing that."

Liadh Ni Riada said the expected non-appearance of three candidates in tomorrow night's TV debate was "a huge disservice to the Irish people".

She confirmed her animosity to the State's Lear jet and its huge carbon footprint, stating she would get rid of it.

Sean Gallagher said remarks about President Higgins's age were outside his own core value of respect for others. The President's age was "irrelevant". When asked about the President's 'unassailable' 70pc poll lead and if he had something to pull out of his back pocket, he recalled 'tweetgate' in 2011, declaring: "I am living proof that unprecedented things can happen in the closing days of campaigns."

Sunday Independent

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