Disputes among three Dragons’ Den candidates dominate final presidential debate

‘We are splitting the vote and lowering the tone,’ says Gavin Duffy

Presidential candidates Gavin Duffy (third from left); Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada; Peter Casey; Sean Gallagher and Senator Joan Freeman pictured alongside Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates (at far left) on Virgin Media One’s The Tonight Show Presidential Election Special. Photograph: Brian McEvoy

Presidential candidates Gavin Duffy (third from left); Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada; Peter Casey; Sean Gallagher and Senator Joan Freeman pictured alongside Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates (at far left) on Virgin Media One’s The Tonight Show Presidential Election Special. Photograph: Brian McEvoy

 

Sean Gallagher renewed his criticisms of what he described as President Michael D Higgins’s lack of transparency over Áras spending during Wednesday night’s presidential television debate.

Mr Higgins did not take part in the debate, citing prior commitments.

On Virgin Media One’s The Tonight Show co-hosted by Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates, Mr Gallagher argued that Government departments would not be allowed to spend €317,000 without an audit.

Fellow candidate Peter Casey denied he was conducting a dogwhistle campaign that has dragged people into the gutter. “Absolutely not,” he said. “I did not create divides.”

He argued that the role of the president was to be a voice of people who needed to be heard. “When I stepped out of the campaign on Friday, I got 3,000 emails from people saying do not step out.”

Later, Mr Casey claimed he would be a president who “would represent minorities and someone who would speak out”.

Asked by Cooper had his comments on Travellers and a housing development in Tipperary come at the expense of political discourse, he responded: “We have raised the questions for the people in middle Ireland. They are the people who can’t get onto the housing ladder.”

Monthly expenses

Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada was asked about her monthly expenses of more than €4,000. She claimed they were fully vouched for and were used to fund offices in Enniscorthy and Co Cork.

Pressed on her comments on the Máiría Cahill case and on her refusal to describe IRA bombings as atrocities, she said: “Máiría Cahill, what was done to her was wrong. No apology will ever undo it. I have apologised profusely on it.

“There were atrocities committed on all sides. There is a peace process in place.

“The IRA are gone and I find it interesting, I am the only politician here, I should be given the same treatment of talking about [issues],” she said. “I marched with people who were homeless, and against water charges.”

Senator Joan Freeman again focused on her main policy platform, which is mental health, and admitted she was a “ball of fear” before each debate.

“The government is about policy. The president is about the people. You also said why would we stand. I have a ball of fear. It made me realise the need to stand up. We need now to focus on mental health in Ireland,” she said.

Each candidate said they opposed the deportation to China of Eric Xue, the nine-year old Bray schoolboy, who was born in Ireland.

Mr Casey said he would make an exception for him as president, invoking a constitutional clause giving him the right to pardon criminal convictions.

Disputes

There were disputes among the three Dragons’ Den panellists, with Gavin Duffy arguing that they each diluted the other’s appeal and it was ridiculous.

“Definitely there should not have been three. We are splitting the vote and lowering the tone,” he said.

All candidates were asked did they know the price of milk. Mr Duffy replied about €2.76 for two litres. Ms Ní Riada said she shopped in supermarkets like Lidl “unlike the millionaires, who get their shopping done for them”.

Mr Casey repeated his promise to put seven women on the Council of State, including his wife, Helen.