Wednesday 20 March 2019

Duffy and Freeman deserve to get a place on Áras ballot paper

Gavin Duffy (pictured) and Joan Freeman have thrown their hats into the ring for the presidency. Photo: Mark Condren
Gavin Duffy (pictured) and Joan Freeman have thrown their hats into the ring for the presidency. Photo: Mark Condren
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Why? It was the most common question among councillors who vetted an intriguing line-up of presidential hopefuls in Carlow this week.

Businessman Gavin Duffy offered up the age-old answer, "Public service."

He's done the private sector and now wants to give something back - if only we, the public, would allow him.

Joan Freeman. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Joan Freeman. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Senator Joan Freeman told councillors that while she might seem like a "one-trick pony", the trick is "very big".

She was unapologetic about her plans to use the presidential contest - and the office if she wins - to raise awareness about mental health issues.

Artist Kevin Sharkey wants to be part of the process so that he can say things the politicians can't and the "lazy" media won't.

And pensioner Patrick Feeney, he just appeared annoyed that the system doesn't work.

It wasn't exactly the stuff of Obama in Carlow County Hall - but the four presentations did make something clear. Let's cut to the chase: Gavin Duffy and Joan Freeman have shown enough to be allowed to take part in the presidential race even though they might not survive it.

Both have clearly thought about what they want to represent and how they might use the office of President to achieve their aims. Admittedly, they have strayed into promising things they will have no power over - but that's every election candidate ever. It's up to us in the media to call that out.

Since entering the fray, Duffy has made confident pitches. If anything, he can come across as over-confident. He has set about gaining name and facial recognition, hoping to break down some of the key barriers to getting a vote long before the formal race starts.

Unsurprisingly, the salesman wants to be a catch-all candidate, identifying the five pillars of his campaign as youth, older people, diversity and inclusion, respect and the economy.

There are lots of sound bites like "a president for all" and "soft power" which fill a headline even if they are a bit glib. In his address, Duffy admitted moving into politics came "at great risk and exposure to myself".

So if he's doing this with his eyes and wallet wide open, then let him.

Ms Freeman has taken a different approach. She is a one-issue candidate who appears to be basing her style more on Mary McAleese than Michael D Higgins.

"A president's focus can bring a unique quality to the nation. By using the highest office in the land, she can highlight issues, generate dialogue, focus attention and slowly, doggedly, persistently help change happen."

The Pieta House founder sought to show a bit of gumption by telling councillors that no government will provide the funding needed to solve Ireland's mental health crisis.

"They always say they will, but they never ever do. It's touchy-feely, it's soft, it's not sexy. That's just the reality," she said. But she struggled when faced with questions on whether she would have signed the Water Services Bill into law. Ms Freeman reckoned she'd refer it to the Council of State for review, which is a safe, almost populist answer.

Yet, she deserves a platform to ask people whether they want a presidency built around helping resolve one of the biggest issues facing this country right now.

No doubt she will be aware of how similar campaigners like Adi Roche and Mary Davis faired in previous elections - but if she thinks it'll be different this time, then add Ms Freeman to the ticket.

However, the real reason that these two should be allowed to challenge Michael D Higgins is because of the dignity and intellect they displayed when presenting to Carlow County Council.

In the era of Trump, it would be disingenuous to immediately dismiss Kevin Sharkey as a joke candidate - but many councillors were struggling not to laugh in his face.

His warning that immigrants could erode our culture and heritage did not sit well. He didn't even give a 'I'm not a racist but…' performance. He admitted to having racist thoughts. We all do, apparently.

If Mr Sharkey wants to be allowed in a TV studio to debate with Michael D Higgins, he needs to come up with a better pitch.

As for Mr Feeney, I'm still not sure why he wants to be president.

Irish Independent

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