Michael D Higgins accused of treating debates like ‘Liveline’

TDs say President’s team wrong to phone in a clarification when he had not shown up

Michael D Higgins has been accused of treating presidential debates like radio phone-in show ‘Liveline’. Photograph:  Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

Michael D Higgins has been accused of treating presidential debates like radio phone-in show ‘Liveline’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times.

 

Michael D Higgins has been accused of treating presidential debates like radio phone-in show Liveline by failing to take part in some events yet calling in with clarifications to statements made by participants.

Fianna Fáil TD for Limerick County Niall Collins - who says he is supporting Mr Higgins’s reelection campaign - criticised the President for failing to take part in a Claire Byrne Live debate on Monday evening on RTÉ.

Fine Gael TD Noel Rock, who is also supporting Mr Higgins, echoed this criticism and said there should be a level playing field

Mr Higgins told The Last Word on Today FM that he was reading the Public Health and Alcohol Bill when the debate was taking place, but had watched some of it on play back services. Seán Gallagher also declined to take part.

Dog grooming

There was some controversy during the debate when Peter Casey claimed that the taxpayer paid the President’s dog grooming bills.

However, the Higgins campaign rang in to say Mr Casey’s claim was untrue, and Ms Byrne read this out on air. Some candidates taking part in the debate, such as Gavin Duffy, objected to this and said Mr Higgins could not choose to skip the debate but ring in to rebut claims.

“I am supporting him but it is a disgrace he is not turning up and he is making a farce of the entire process,” Mr Collins said. “It is totally ridiculous that he does take part but his campaign rings in making rebuttals. It is more like Liveline with Joe Duffy than a serious debate for the presidency.”

Mr Rock also said that Mr Higgins had made his decision to stay out of the televised debate, and should not then have been allowed to interject.

“President or not, if you don’t turn up in a debate you shouldn’t be able to take part in it,” the Dublin North West TD said. “You can’t imagine anybody else being afforded that luxury and, even though he is the incumbent, RTÉ need to work to ensure a level playing field.”

All six candidates - Mr Higgins, Mr Gallagher, Mr Casey, Mr Duffy, Sinn Féin’s Liadh ni Ríada and Senator Joan Freeman - will all take part in the next televised debate on Virgin Media One on Wednesday.