Presidential election: Gallagher told not to send letters to Áras

Formal dispatch from candidate not entertained by Higgins ‘for obvious reasons’

President Michael D Higgins’s campaign has asked opponent Seán Gallagher not to send letters regarding the election to Áras an Uachtaráin, “for obvious reasons”.

The formal request was dispatched after Mr Gallagher sent a letter to the President on Sunday night outlining his disappointment in his conduct during the build-up this month’s election.

In particular he criticised President Higgins for declining to participate in a live debate on Monday night.

"I note there are no public engagements in your diary for Monday that preclude you from participating in the Claire Byrne Live debate and your decision, as stated by you, is a political one in the context of this campaign," Mr Gallagher wrote in a letter that was shared on social media.


"I am disappointed by your decision and believe it is insulting to the people of Ireland and shows contempt for the integrity of our electoral process.

“In the event you reflect on your position, I have left a space in my schedule to participate in the Claire Byrne Live debate.”

Mr Gallagher had also ruled himself out of the debate on the grounds of not participating unless all candidates did so.

In a formal, written response on Monday afternoon, the President’s campaign director Claire Power took issue with Mr Gallagher’s correspondence which they received “late on Sunday night”.

"May I request that any further correspondence in relation to any aspect of the election campaign is directed to the Michael D Higgins Campaign Office, not Áras an Uachtaráin, for obvious reasons," Ms Power wrote.

“Let me confirm that President Michael D Higgins will fulfil the debate engagements that he announced publicly on October 2nd.

“Can I say that I was surprised to receive your missive last night before the airing of one particular debate. As noted above President Higgins publicly indicated his commitment to debates 12 days ago.”

Earlier, a spokesman for the campaign said the President had tried to strike a balance between his official commitments and media appearances.

To date, the spokesman said, he had done about a dozen media interviews and one radio debate, with two further television debates to come.

Mr Gallagher had said he would still participate in the first television debate of the campaign if President Michael D Higgins would join him.

An invitation to all six candidates to participate in the programme remains open right up to live transmission, but only four have accepted: Joan Freeman; Liadh Ní Riada; Gavin Duffy and Peter Casey.

Fox hunting

Earlier, speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Duffy defended fox hunting, but said he would not have a problem with banning it if a more humane approach to controlling the fox population could be found.

He said he was concerned about the over-poisoning of the countryside.

Mr Duffy said the reason he was being asked about hunting was because he had defended the Co Meath Ward Union stag hunt, but said that no one raised the issue with President Higgins, even though he was the person who had issued the licence to them (when he was minister for arts, culture and the gaeltacht in 1997.)

If the majority of people want hunting banned, the Government would have to move legislation, Mr Duffy said. “If someone has a more humane approach, I have no difficulty with that,” he said.

When asked who was his favourite poet, Mr Duffy said it was Emily Dickinson. When asked who his favourite Irish poet was, he said Seamus Heaney. He described the line of questioning as strange.

“Why is there the presumption that because I am a businessman that I am a philistine?” he asked.

“I am a great supporter of the arts. I love the opera.

“Don’t just judge me because I am a business person. I am a parent who wants to create a better society for my children.”

Business people should not be dismissed, he said, as our social services system is funded by taxes.

He said he wants a society that is open, inclusive, just, fair and compassionate.

Mr Duffy acknowledged that the President has no executive powers, but could set the mood and adapt, “to change the conversation”.

He said that “daylight robbery” is happening in the corporate world with multinationals manufacturing in the poorest parts of the world selling their products in the richest part and then paying their taxes in the “most accommodating” part.

“We are going to have to have a conversation about funding models,” he said.