Wednesday 19 June 2019

O Ceidigh: 'Release medical records in race for presidency'

The former airline boss believes the public's right to know about candidates will be central to this race, writes Niamh Horan

HOPEFUL: Padraig O Ceidigh on Barna Pier in Galway Bay. Photo: Tony Gavin
HOPEFUL: Padraig O Ceidigh on Barna Pier in Galway Bay. Photo: Tony Gavin
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Pádraig O Ceidigh wants the medical records of all candidates released in the race for Aras an Uachtarain.

A common practice for presidential hopefuls in the United States, the Independent Senator says Ireland should be no different.

Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Independent this weekend, Mr O Ceidigh says he will release his own health records if nominated and believes other hopefuls should do the same.

"I don't see how anyone would have an issue unless they are concerned about their health or worried about highlighting something. It is a fair question to ask," he said.

"The job is a seven-year stint and, as with any job these days, you have to undergo a medical exam as part of the interview process. Why should the role of president be any different?"

It is a brave move given his own chequered history with health. Six years ago, the former Aer Arann boss suffered a heart attack. His heart stopped and he was only saved with the aid of CPR and a defibrillator.

Describing his memory of a spiritual experience when he flatlined, he recalls: "I had zero pain, I felt in a good warm space."

He later spoke to a priest who had spent time with people who were passing on. The priest told him that his experience was quite common.

"He told me that some people make peace with themselves and they go into a state of calmness. I can relate to that."

One thing he didn't make peace with, however, was that niggling feeling that he could do more with life. It brought him back to advice he received as a young student at Harvard University which he says "blew me away".

His strategy professor put it to him: "The world with you versus the world without you: do you really make a difference? To yourself, to your family, to your friends, to your business, to your country?"

That day, he adapted it as a life mantra. It led him to Aer Arann, which he transformed into a fast-growing regional airline, netting him a fortune of €40m before it ended up in examinership in 2010.

Over the next two weeks, he will conduct a poll to see how he is perceived among the public and, all things being equal, will confirm his candidacy.

So what makes him think he will be a better president than Michael D Higgins?

According to O Ceidigh, there are several factors: "Energy, experience, vision and the [background I have] outside of politics, which I think is critically important."

He mentioned that he would have more energy than Michael D? "And I would. I'm not being negative about Michael D."

His willingness to address red button issues surrounding the 77-year-old President is interesting, given that the pair know each other from a previous life.

The businessman taught Michael D's children in secondary school and the pair would attend Galway United matches together.

Mr O Ceidigh also believes the Aras should make all of the President's expenditure public.

"I don't see why Michael D Higgins would have any problem with that, especially given that he is a man who is very, very strong on transparency," he says.

As a Senator: "I employ KPMG to audit me and my company and they have to provide a letter to say my expenditure is vouched for and fine.

"In my view, from what I know of Michael D, and I am very respectful of the man, he has a lot to gain by releasing his expenditure. He should just come out with it - hotels, accommodation, meals, whatever the case may be."

O Ceidigh finds it a "very strange and a significant quirk if the same rules that apply to every public representative don't also apply to the office of the president", and feels the President should take the lead in all of this".

As for the other most high-profile candidate, O Ceideigh is more coy.

"I don't know Gavin Duffy," he says, adding: "I know Gavin Duffy has been on Dragons' Den but I don't even know what businesses he's been involved in."

"Like any citizen he's fully entitled to go for it and fair play to him, because I really believe there should be an election whether I'm involved or not."

The idea of any skeletons coming out would make most people baulk at the prospect of running for president. Is there anything O Ceidigh would like to unburden himself with before an announcement?

"Shake things up and down," he says. "I've been a public figure for a long number of years and a lot of whatever was to come out would be out in my view. My illness is one thing and I am very public about that, and that's it. I'm married for 30-something years and my wife and I have a great relationship and always have - I wouldn't have achieved anything without her support.

"In relation to business, what will come out in business, will come out in business. I've never had any issues. We've had good times and bad."

One of the more difficult periods was during his spat with Michael O'Leary. So what does he make of the Ryanair boss now?

"Michael O'Leary almost closed me down, as you know, but I've no grudges against him, I wish him well," he says.

He believes "from a leadership point of view [if] O'Leary had a little more flexibility and a little more humanity I think Ryanair would have achieved what they've done and it wouldn't be as rocky as it is now".

Still, he is philosophical about their dispute and the hard times that fell on Aer Arran. On losing his fortune, he says that was the easy part: "Money is not my God. It never was. For me, the most difficult thing was when people let me down."

But he says: "That's life, Niamh. We get kicks in the arse. The big thing is, not the kick, it's when you say, 'OK let me pick myself up and see what I can do now'."

There are few who could dust themselves off enough to run for president but, as O Ceidigh has proved many times before, even when he's out for the count, never rule him out.

*When contacted for a response, the President's Office was unavailable for comment.

Sunday Independent

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