Old issues raise heads in debate


Old issues raised their heads again as presidential candidates gathered in the Helix in Dublin City University today for a seven-way radio debate.

The debate, chaired by journalist Charlie Bird and broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 this afternoon, was one of the last in a series held over recent weeks.

Candidates were questioned on topics including jobs, emigration, gay rights, Irish neutrality and the Angelus.

The presidential hopefuls all pledged to stand together with the people of Ireland, and promised inclusion and integration across society if elected president.

All were keen to stress how they would deliver value for money if elected.

Labour's Micheal D Higgins said he wouldn't be drawing an Oireachtas pension while in office, and would accept a pay cut.

Independent Mary Davis pledged to extend the Freedom of Information Act to provide full transparency around the activities of Áras an Uachtaráin, and publish monthly accounts.

There were moments of tension between the candidates as some answers raised contentious issues.

Fine Gael's Gay Mitchell clashed with Senator David Norris when candidates were asked if they would be happy to take the role of grand marshall in Dublin's gay pride parade if elected president.

Although all the candidates appeared willing to take up the role, the Independent took issue with a joke made by Mr Mitchell about being "the only Gay who's going for president".

Mr Norris retorted sharply. "I don't think this is at all entertaining," he said. "We're engaged in situation where we still have homophobic bullying in schools. A candidate makes a joke about being gay, it's not what I would expect."

Dana Rosemary Scallon said she respected people off all sexual orientations notwithstanding her personal beliefs about gay marriage.

The seriousness of the debate was also called into question, with some pumpkins that had been carved with the faces of the candidates causing controversy. Mr Norris asked for them to be removed from the front of the stage.

"I don't think we should permit this trivialisation. I'm sorry I think it's wrong but I think it's an insult to the audience," he said. It later emerged that the artist who had created the pumpkin carvings had been recommended by Mr Norris’s own campaign team.

While the candidates attempted diplomacy on the topic of the media, noting the "tough" job that has to be done in such an election, Seán Gallagher said he was "disappointed" at times with the tone of the media coverage, which he said sensationalised issues rather than dealt with real issues and the role of the president.

"In the coming days, I would ask the media to focus more on the future and less on the past," he said.

Sinn Féin candidate Martin McGuinness was more strident in his views. He said he didn't feel he had been treated fairly by media in the campaign, and there was a lot of anger on the streets at how he had been dealt with. "The line of approach and questioning from the media in north and what has happened in the course of the election here is like night and day," he said, noting that he felt the media in Northern Ireland would have been fairer.

Mr Gallagher defended his past involvement with Fianna Fáil, saying he has been asked to let local business people know of  a party fundraising event in 2008, but had made no donation himself, and had not collected any money. He insisted he was an independent candidate, noting that Fianna Fáil had chosen not to put a candidate forward.

The final debates will be held on Monday, and Newstalk and Google have invited the public to join the digital debate by sending in questions via YouTube. That evening, Pat Kenny will host the final televised debate on RTÉ before the broadcast moratorium takes effect.