Friday 24 May 2019

Presidential hopefuls set out their visions at Wicklow County Council

Senator Joan Freeman, artist Kevin Sharkey, businessman Gavin Duffy and farmer John Groarke seeking vote from local authority

Presidential hopefuls Kevin Sharkey and Senator Joan Freeman pictured at Wicklow County Council on Monday.
Presidential hopefuls Kevin Sharkey and Senator Joan Freeman pictured at Wicklow County Council on Monday.
Businessman Gavin Duffy is hoping to secure Wicklow County Council’s vote.

Myles Buchanan

Four Presidential hopefuls presented their case to Wicklow County Council in an effort to secure a nomination to run in the upcoming election.

Senator Joan Freeman and Kevin Sharkey were the first would-be candidates to address the Council Chamber, followed by Gavin Duffy and John Groarke later into Monday's monthly council meeting.

First up to speak was Senator Joan Freeman, the founder of the non-profit organisation Pieta House. The psychologist is married to Pat and they have four children and four grand daughters.

Since its formation, Pieta House has assisted over 40,000 people, ranging in age from eight years to 80 and above.

'I helped put Pieta House not just on the national map but also as an international organisation'.

Senator Freeman said there would be an emphasis on mental health as part of her Presidential campaign.

'I have spent my life and my livelihood campaigning for mental health. Look at the Darkness into Light walk for Pieta House. It starts at 4 a.m. when it is pitch black and as dawn breaks, everyone crosses over the finishing line. During the first event we had 400 people taking part ten years ago. This year over 200,000 people participated, which is something to be proud of'.

While Senator Freeman acknowledged that the role of President is 'limited' with 'little or no executive powers', she still felt the position has 'power to create and make change'.

She added: 'We need to assist with something that has been ignored in this country for too long, peoples mental health. Mental health affects everyone one of us. It affects relationships, children, older people, younger people and the workforce'.

She was also conscious of Ireland's ageing population.

'Pat, my husband, is a post master and his post office is one of the ones closing down. Just think of the people who stand in front of him every week and often he is probably the only person they meet all week. Last year we had 50,000 older people who didn't receive a visit from family or friends'.

Kevin Sharkey felt his background as an artist could prove beneficial to his chances as both roles 'involve a vision'.

During his humorous opening speech Mr Sharkey said: 'Sometimes I get mistaken for Mike Tyson, other times Paul McGrath. I have often had people shout at me 'Fergal,' which I can only assume is because my last name is Sharkey'.

Becoming Ireland's first black President would also send out a message.

'Racism is something people talk about but it is something I have spent a lifetime dealing with. There are out and out racists but that can be refreshing in that at least you know what your are dealing with. The real racism is casual racism. Look at TV and the media. Do you see them representing the 10 per cent of the people living here who aren't Irish? If you feel secluded you create your own culture. Pretty soon you have what we call ghettos forming because people don't feel part of the country'.

He also touched upon American President Donald Trump, commenting: 'Our relationship with America is far more important than a few hurt feelings in the Dail'.

Mr Sharkey wants to involve young people more in the political process.

'You look at the last Presidential election. Young people ignored it because it had nothing for them. We need the youth to understand that there is a place for them in Ireland'.

Roscommon farmer John Groarke said he strongly disagreed with the nomination process for President which means he would need the support of a number of County Councils or Oireachtas members.

'That is something that shouldn't be. As an Irish citizen born in Ireland, if I want to run for the presidency I should be entitled to that. Look at our current President. He has had privileges and as a Republic there shouldn't be any privileges. I believe in liberty where every man and woman is equal. The same avenue to each public office should be open to everyone'.

Mr Groarke also spoke of his displeasure at the lack of accountability in both the Dail and the Seanad.

'Why are they drawing down salaries? Look at the HSE. You have huge waiting lists, the smear test scandal. The Minister of Health has no responsibility toward women or children. I would like to make a better Republic. I am fearful the people in the Dail and the Seanad don't care about people like me'.

Business man and former Dragon's Den star Gavin Duffy touched upon what he described as the 'soft powers' the President can yield.

He said: 'Mary Robinson reached out to the people of war-torn Somalia. She also lit a candle to remind us all of the Irish people who had to leave to live elsewhere. Mary McAleese built bridges. They were both strong women who felt there was more that could be done as President than is written down in the Constitution. Both of them also played major roles in the Peace Process. I intend to be out meeting with people, listening to them and hearing what they have to say. I have worked with leaders in politics and business. Young people, older people, the new Irish. I help to draw out a map so they can achieve their dreams and make themselves happy'.

While providing some background on his upbringing and his achievements, Mr Duffy said his proudest achievement was rearing his family.

'I was raised above the family shop in Drogheda and I never went to third level education. Aged 18 I was already employing 18 people. I am pleased that I enjoyed some success in business but the biggest achievement in my life has been my family. I am a husband of 25 years and have four children'.

Mr Duffy also announced that he had secured the nomination from Meath County Council.

Wicklow's Councillors can only nominate one potential candidate and the vote will take place on Monday in the Council Chamber at 7 p.m.

Bray People