Candidates exchange blows in live television debate

 

Sinn Féin presidential candidate Martin McGuinness was accused of being unfit to hold the office because of his refusal to come clean about his IRA record.

During the TV3 presidential debate Fine Gael candidate Gay Mitchell said Mr McGuinness was telling the voters “fairytales” by denying his IRA past, pretending he was not the Sinn Féin candidate and claiming that he lived on the average industrial wage.

Mr Mitchell said the office of president was crucial to restoring confidence in the institutions of the state but the people could not have confidence in a candidate who was not prepared to tell the truth.

“How do people know you won’t lie about other things?” asked Mr Mitchell.

Mr McGuinness insisted that people “out on the street” were not exercised about his IRA role in the way the media and his political opponents were exercise about it.

“I have risked my life,” said Mr McGuinness, pointing to his role in the peace process. He said that during his period as Minister for Education in Northern Ireland and his more recent role as Deputy First Minister his past had not been an issue.

“The people of Derry see me as someone who has done everything in my power to bring an end to the cycle of violence,” said Mr McGuinness.

Sean Gallagher said he was saddened by the tone and the level of the debate.

“This is not a campaign as to what people have done in the past; it’s what they might do in the future,” he said,

He added that the person who stepped forward to revitalise Ireland must deal with issues that concerned people and create confidence in the community.

Senator David Norris said that if anybody knew about negative campaigning he did.

Addressing Mr McGuinnes he said: “We share one thing in common Martin I know exactly what it is like to be a second class citizen in my own country, but I never whinge and complain.”

Later in the debate when Mr Norris was questioned about the letters he had written to the Israeli authorities on behalf of his former partner he said the voters had moved on and the issue had no traction.

Dana Rosemary Scallon said that while the people in the studio were taking about negative campaigning the people at home were living in negative equity.

She said it was the role of president to resist the kind of legislation that would hand the power to set our corporation tax rate to Europe. “I think we want to be in Europe but we don’t want to be controlled by Europe,” she said.

Labour Party candidate Michael D Higgins said it was important to remember that they were all standing for election under the terms of the Constitution and he pointed out that the president could do nothing about issues like the bank guarantee of 2009, which he had voted against in the Dáil.

“The president that is required over the next seven years is someone who can restore trust,” said Mr Higgins who added that it was time to go beyond recriminations and focus on the strengths of Ireland.

He said suggestions from some of the other candidates were that the independent office of president could be merged with the Dail or Seanad was simply not the case.

Mary Davis raised reports of negative campaigning and she accused Fine Gael of being behind them.

She said that as president she would set up a number of conventions on issues of real concern such as mental health, young people and literacy. She said she would meet the Government before convening such conventions.

Ms Davis also said she would press for the introduction of a national citizens award and she would draw on the global Irish as asset from the country.