Potential presidential candidate offered free tickets to councillors

Gavin Duffy’s act cheapens office of president, says Social Democrats Fingal councillor

Gavin Duffy: “No disrespect was intended and, if it has been taken thus, I apologise for the offence the councillor took from it.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Gavin Duffy: “No disrespect was intended and, if it has been taken thus, I apologise for the offence the councillor took from it.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

A businessman considering a run for the presidency offered free tickets to his marketing seminar to councillors.

Gavin Duffy wrote to councillors in recent weeks with the offer of a place at his “smart marketing seminar” which took place in the Gate Theatre, Dublin, last Tuesday.

In order to secure a presidential election nomination, candidates must get four county councils or 20 TDs or Senators to facilitate their entry into the race.

In his communications with councillors, Mr Duffy made no mention of a run for the presidency, but instead offered tickets for “this much-in-demand seminar”, which were normally priced from €59.

Cian O’Callaghan, a Social Democrats councillor in Fingal, said it is “very disappointing that the first contact from a presidential hopeful is offering councillors freebies”, which he claimed cheapened the office of president.

While Mr Duffy has yet to confirm if he is actually standing for the presidency, he is expected to do so within a fortnight.

In his letter, Mr Duffy said: “Here’s an opportunity for you to do a favour for some local business person you know. No doubt in your role as councillor you are approached by businesses or start-ups looking for a steer or a contact in the LEO (local enterprise office) or Enterprise Ireland. ”

“If you know such a person, you can tell them you can get them a ticket for Gavin Duffy’s SMART marketing seminar . . . at Dublin’s prestigious Gate Theatre.”

Tickets had become available, he added, because one of the sponsors, Newstalk, did not take up its full allocation for the event.

General speculation

Mr Duffy told The Irish Times the letter was only sent to councillors in Fingal, Louth and Meath, the areas closest to him. He also said it was sent on July 3rd last, before his name had entered general speculation in relation to the presidency.

He said Mr O’Callaghan’s comment “is a fair one if I was a declared presidential hopeful. However, this was a letter sent to some councillors local to the seminar venue and was not generally circulated beyond that.”

“The letter stated it was for local businesses, not necessarily for the councillors themselves, and I stand over the decision that I will always try, wherever possible, to promote start-ups and small businesses as most councillors do as well,” the Dragons’ Den star added. “This was done on a small scale and five people availed of the offer.

“Cllr O’Callaghan is correct to point out protocol and procedure are paramount in dealing respectfully with councillors. No disrespect was intended and, if it has been taken thus, I apologise for the offence the councillor took from it.”

He said he has since spoken to Mr O’Callaghan, who he said accepted his “good intentions”.

‘Vision and values’

Mr O’Callaghan confirmed he had spoken to Mr Duffy but stood by his initial comments. He said the letter from Mr Duffy followed a note to councillors earlier this year from Senator Gerard Craughwell, also seeking a presidential election nomination, giving them advice on how to “maximise allowable expenses”.

“I’d much prefer to hear from those seeking nominations about their vision and values for the presidency,” he said. “These attempts to gain support in my view cheapen the office of the presidency and seem to indicate a pretty low view that the aspirants hold of councillors.”

Senator Craughwell defended himself at the time, saying he was assisting councillors on issues raised with him. He said he had been contacted by “many councillors” about claiming travel and subsistence expenses and that he wanted to provide clarity.