Tuesday 15 October 2019

Senator Joan Freeman 'happy to sign abortion bill into law' if elected as president, despite No vote in referendum

Senator Joan Freeman. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Senator Joan Freeman. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

THE race for the Áras is moving into the next phase as hopeful challengers to Michael D Higgins make their first public pitches today.

Three hopefuls vying for a nomination from local authorities are making their case before a meeting of Waterford City and County Council this afternoon.

Before the council today are: Joan Freeman, a high profile mental health campaigner and Independent senator and Gavin Duffy, a businessman and former Dragon’s Den star.

Local reps will also hear from Patrick Feeney.

Independent presidential hopeful Gavin Duffy plans his campaign strategy with his son Lorcan. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
Independent presidential hopeful Gavin Duffy plans his campaign strategy with his son Lorcan. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

In her first public statements on her vision for the presidency Senator Joan Freeman has said she will be a “courageous president” who speaks out against injustice.

Questioned about whether she would be happy to sign the resulting legislation following the referendum, Ms Freeman said she voted No, not for religious reasons but because she has worked her whole life to preserve life.

However, she said she would absolutely be happy to carry the voice of the people and sign resulting legislation into law as president.

Ms Freeman was also questioned about whether she has ever been a member of the Iona Institute. Her niece is Maria Steen, who emerged as a high profile No advocate. Ms Freeman said she has never been a member and noted her daughter was heavily involved in the Yes campaign.

Ms Freeman is before Waterford City and County Council making her pitch for a nomination as she seeks the support of four local authorities.

Outlining her vision she said she wants to create a Republic of wellbeing, initiative and justice.

“As your president I know that the role of the president is above policy making but it’s not above the role of principal,” she said.

Referring to the CervicalCheck scandal and the adoption scandal Ms Freeman said she would be an outspoken president.

A president of Ireland “can speak when something is fundamentally wrong in Irish society”, she said.

She also pledged to establish a wellbeing initiative and a civic society initiative focused on fostering volunteerism. She paid tribute to volunteerism across Ireland, noting that Irish people were “the most generous people in the world not only with our money but with our time”.

In her opening address Ms Freeman recounted her history of volunteerism, her work in founding Pieta House and in setting up the Darkness Into Light.

Meanwhile, businessman Gavin Duffy said he will focus on youth unemployment and building relationships abroad in a bid to further investment.

Mr Duffy said one of his key initiatives he wants to introduce is a “youth core” which would allow young people to travel and engage in charitable work abroad after raising money to cover the costs.

Speaking about the role of the president Mr Duffy said there is “very little you can do” as the powers of the office are limited but that the president can have huge influence and can wield it via the issues they chose to focus on.

Mr Duffy referred to the issues of the CervicalCheck scandal, homelessness and the need for new banking regulation during his comments before Waterford City and County Council.

He also confirmed that he voted for Sean Gallagher in 2011 but said “he hasn’t told me whether he is running or not”, this time around.

The businessman was asked about his chairing of the Fine Gael leadership hustings between Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney and he said that he was chosen because of his independence and was vetted "up and down” by the party to ensure his independence.

Mr Duffy was also asked if he had provided consultancy or advice to Nama developers to which he said he had not. He also referred to one meeting with Sean Fitzpatrick a number of years ago that was reported on at the time ago but said that meeting was the one they ever had.

He said he would like to see Irish people abroad have a vote in presidential elections.

During his campaign he pledged to visit Irish centres in the UK.

Each prospective candidate will have half an hour to speak.

A motion to nominate a candidate cannot be signed until a presidential election order is signed. It is expected the order will be signed next month.

Anyone looking to run for the presidency needs the support of 20 Oireachtas members or four local authorities.

With Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil backing the sitting president and Sinn Féin set to run a candidate on their the local authority route is believed to be the best bet for many hopefuls.

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