Candidates hold radio debate

Tue, Oct 11, 2011, 01:00

The seven presidential candidates have taken part in a live debate on Today FM.

The debate was held in The Sugar Club in Dublin in front of a live audience and hosted by Last Word presenter Matt Cooper.

During the first part of the debate, in which Cooper asked questions of the candidates. Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness said he wanted to be the president of "all of Ireland's 32 counties".

He said it was wrong as an Irish citizen that he did not have a vote in the Presidential election.

He cited the example of Tyrone captain Peter Canavan who is supporting his candidacy and who said that none of the players who took part in the 2003 All-Ireland final between Tyrone and Armagh had a vote in the presidential election.

Mr McGuinness said he did not subscribe to the "partitionist-type mentality" when asked by Cooper what he would change about the southern Irish character. As a Republican, he would represent all of Ireland.

Referring to a previous debate in which Vincent Browne referenced books which showed him to have a member of the IRA for much longer than he claimed to have been, Mr McGuinness said if people had the opportunity they would have blamed him for the 1916 Rising.

Independent candidate David Norris said as a result of changes to Articles 2 and 3 of the constitution, it was not possible for the President to be president of all of Ireland. He said he would be the President of the 26 Counties, but he would, like President Mary McAleese, build bridges with the people in the North.

Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell said he would be positively disposed towards Ireland joining the Commonwealth if it was the price of a united Ireland.

Mr McGuinness said that would mean the Queen of England would take precedence over the President of Ireland.

Labour’s Michael D Higgins said he would be in favour of extending the vote for the Presidential election to people living in the North and recent Irish emigrants, but that was a matter for the Constitutional Convention which will be considering these issues next Spring.

He said the worst trait of the Irish people was a certain "moral cowardice" which manifested itself in a desire to blame the whole "political class" for the economic collapse of the country rather than the politicians who were to blame.

Independent Seán Gallagher said the Irish people's worst trait was a "sense of negativity and cynicism" and the public needed to dig deep to recover a sense of self-confidence.

All the candidates, with the exception of Mr Higgins who had to leave for another engagement, professed to hold religious beliefs. Mr Norris said people might find it surprising that he is a “believing Christian” and he goes to St Patrick’s Cathedral every Sunday which is an “immutable thing”.

Dana Rosemary Scallon said she believed secularism was being “forced” on the Constitution and society.

She also believed the President should be given the power to address the nation once a year.

Mr Norris admitted he found it difficult to raise finance because of the controversies surrounding his campaign and had put “every single red cent” of his money into his campaign.

Mary Davis said the President could help to motivate and empower people and that she had the skills to tackle that.

She claimed to have acted with integrity at “all time” and had been upfront about her past in releasing her P60. She said other candidates had not followed suit.

It is the latest in a series of debates which have invigorated the presidential campaign.

During the second television debate, on TV3, there were robust exchanges on issues such as Northern Ireland, child protection and company directorships.

Since that debate, an Irish Times/ Ipsos MRBI poll has shown Mr Higgins is leading the presidential election race with Independent Seán Gallagher in second place.

The poll also showed Mr McGuinness in third place but that support for Mr Norris and Mr Mitchell had fallen away.

With three weeks to go before the election, the poll indicates that unless there is some dramatic development it will come down to a battle between Mr Higgins, Mr Gallagher and Mr McGuinness with the issue being decided on transfers.

When people were asked who they would vote for if the presidential election was held tomorrow, the figures (when undecided voters were excluded) compared to the last Irish Times poll on July 19th were: Michael D Higgins 23 per cent (up five points); Seán Gallagher 20 per cent (up seven points); Martin McGuinness 19 per cent (not in last poll); Mary Davis 12 per cent (no change); David Norris 11 per cent (down 14 points); Gay Mitchell 9 per cent (down 12 points); and Dana Rosemary Scallon 6 per cent (not in last poll).