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Duty calls for Higgins as his rivals come out fighting

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Michael D Higgins

Michael D Higgins

Michael D Higgins wife Sabina, Students’ Union President Vito Moloney and DCU President, Brian MacCraith

Michael D Higgins wife Sabina, Students’ Union President Vito Moloney and DCU President, Brian MacCraith

Liadh Ni Riada

Liadh Ni Riada

President Higgins with wife Sabina, Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex

President Higgins with wife Sabina, Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex

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Michael D Higgins

Michael D Higgins made an impassioned plea for Ireland to pay better attention to mental health services as he returned to his presidential duties yesterday.

But his speech at Dublin City University was met with a blunt statement from Senator Joan Freeman who described herself as the "expert" in the area.

Rival candidates Peter Casey and Gavin Duffy also hit out at Mr Higgins for failing to take part in a radio debate.

After greeting Britain's Prince Edward and his wife Sophie at Aras An Uachtarain yesterday, President Higgins later opened the new student hub, called The U, in DCU with a 25-minute speech that was well-received by students.

He said there is a "legacy of a time when mental health did not receive the recognition or provision that was needed. Thus, now we must fill the gap and without any further tardiness.

Stresses

"In a student's world there are particular stresses and worries associated with self-image, exams, awakening sexuality, shyness, bullying, family dysfunction, prevailing social and cultural attitudes about mental health," he said.

"All or any mix of these can overwhelm even the strongest in any other sense, and can for others be too much to deal with alone."

He added that any society that "neglects mental health loses a rich resource".

Ms Freeman, the founder of Pieta House, was later asked whether she viewed this as an attempt by the President to move into the area she has highlighted as the centrepiece of her Aras campaign.

"A lot of people are going to bring in mental health as one of their pillars," she said.

"I am actually the true person who can talk about mental health in Ireland.

"I really believe that we need to create a culture of good mental health.

"I'm the expert in this area. I'm sure Michael D Higgins is an expert in other areas but this is the most crucial issue that is facing our country, along with homelessness, which is part of that."

As the race got fully under way, Sinn Fein's Liadh Ni Riada said she believed the story of IRA abuse victim Mairia Cahill.

This marked a diversion from the party's deputy leader, Michelle O'Neill, who has been criticised for refusing to say whether she accepts Ms Cahill was abused and subsequently subjected to an IRA kangaroo court.

Meanwhile, businessman Mr Casey described Donald Trump as a "serial womaniser and abuser of women".

While saying that he would welcome the US president to this country, Mr Casey offered his "personal view" on Mr Trump.

"I would obviously welcome a guest, but my position on Donald Trump is that he's a serial womaniser and abuser," she said. "He's a disgrace, but you have to respect the office of the president."


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