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Gaeilgeoir Higgins hopes to talk his way past rivals as candidates face TG4 debate

Presidential candidate Michael D Higgins is expected to gain an advantage over his rivals because of his fluency in Irish.

An upcoming debate to be hosted by TG4 on October 18 will give the Labour academic a chance to outshine the other candidates. While some candidates make do with just 'school Irish' to say the 'cupla focal,' with Higgins it will be a case of 'cead mile focal.'

A spokesman for Higgins today said he was busy preparing for tonight's debate hosted by TV3's Vincent Browne. He is not expected to have an equal in the TG4 debate when it comes to the Irish language.

Even Martin McGuinness is not hailed as a great Irish speaker and is known to leave the talking 'as gaeilge' to colleague Gerry Adams.

TG4, however, will allow the candidates to debate in English, with Irish sub-titles, but they will be expected to make their opening and closing statements through Irish.

Meanwhile, his spokesman said today Mr Higgins had nothing to hide in responding to Mary Davis's call that all candidates fully disclose their incomes.

"His income comes only from pensions. His ministerial and Oireachtas pensions are roughly €89,000 a year and the only other income is his small university pension of just under €20,000," said his spokesman.

His full income, before tax, was approximately €110,000 a year. "He's had no fees from any boards and he owns no shares," he said.

Mr Higgins would not comment today on reports that a leading public relations company, of which Mrs Davis's husband Julian is a director, was awarded a contract by a charity where the couple both sat on the board.

Fleishman Hillard was given the contract by Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) while both were directors of the not-for-profit charity. The couple have both denied there was a conflict of interest in the awarding of the contract, worth tens of thousands of euro a year to Mr Davis's company.

Mr Higgins spokesman said the controversy was "a matter for the board" of SEI to deal with.