Áras candidates dodge bullets

Sat, Oct 1, 2011, 01:00

The first television debate of the presidential campaign has taken place with issues such as the presidential salary, campaign funding and the candidates’ standing in the polls taking centre stage.

The large number of candidates in the Late Late Show studio militated against a clear result, although the two female contenders, Mary Davis and Dana Rosemary Scallon, featured prominently. Frontrunner Michael D Higgins gave no hostages to fortune with a solid performance.

Independent Senator David Norris again refused to release further letters he wrote seeking clemency for his former partner Ezra Nawi.

He said his concern was with the welfare of the victim in the case and it wasn’t fair to have the affair “raked up” again in the age of the internet. He said he had legal advice from Israel that it would be wrong to do this.

Asked about the opinion of Irish legal experts who say there is no impediment to him releasing the correspondence, Mr Norris said “lawyers differ”. He decried the lack of time available to him to set out his vision for the presidency.

Dana brandished a copy of the since-abandoned European constitution as she declared that the election was about this issue. As president she would refuse to sign a Bill giving a European constitution precedence over the Irish Constitution.

Dana said she had the knowledge and experience to protect Irish sovereignty, adding: “We didn’t go to Europe as beggars. We gave Europe our fishing rights.”

In a rare heated moment during the debate, Dana became annoyed when asked by host Ryan Tubridy about the Catholic Church. “Why do you put it to me. You put it to me as I am continually put on the box as the mouthpiece of the Catholic Church I am not a mouthpiece for anyone except the people of the country.”

Mr Norris said he would place the vast majority of his presidential salary in an independent fund. Mr McGuinness said he draw only an average industrial wage and the rest of the salary would be used to create jobs for young people.

Independent candidate Mary Davis revealed she received a €2,500 donation – the maximum allowable – from businessman Denis O’Brien, a major supporter of the Special Olympics. Ms Davis estimated that she would spend €200,000-350,000.

Seán Gallagher denied distancing himself from Fianna Fáil, rejecting Tubridy’s contention that “you embrace your Fianna Fail past but you deny your Fianna Fail present”.

Responding to suggestions that Fine Gael’s “backroom boys” were not supporting him, Mr Mitchell said: “I don’t know where that comes from but these backroom boys are breaking their backs for me”.

Today, Ms Davis defended her independence in the wake of reports that she was paid nearly €190,000 by State bodies to which she was appointed by Fianna Fáil ministers.

"I've been appointed to various boards by different groups, some of them by the particular government of the day, whoever that government was. As I've stated before, I'm truly independent, I've no political affiliations whatsoever," she told RTÉ.