Sinn Féin presidential candidate Liadh Ní Riada has defended her position on the HPV vaccine saying she had never opposed it but had raised concerns about information.
She was speaking as four of the six candidates took part in the first broadcast debate of the presidential election campaign on RTÉ Radio, where they differed on how much of the presidential salary they would take and on the president’s role dealing with Brexit.
Neither President Michael D Higgins nor Seán Gallagher took part in the broadcast. The four candidates were MEP Ms Ní Riada, Senator Joan Freeman, and businessmen Gavin Duffy and Peter Casey.
Ms Ní Riada said she was never opposed to the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer but had raised concerns about the information.
In 2016 the MEP said that she would not allow her daughter to receive the HPV vaccine. Noting the HSE was in “in a shambles”, she asked: “how much can you trust this is 100 per cent safe”. Speaking on Cork local radio, she said she had “sent a note to the school” saying she didn’t want her daughter to get the vaccine.
However, speaking in the presidential debate on Thursday, she said she “didn’t write to their school at all” and challeged interviewer Áine Lawlor: “I don’t know where you’re getting your information from”.
Ms Ní Liada she said she was fully in favour of vaccines. She did not think it was fair that journalists were “hounding” her children’s private medical records.
Asked about a lack of Sinn Féin logos on her posters, Ms Ní Riada said she would be a president for the people not just a Sinn Fein candidate. She said she is proud to be a Sinn Féin MEP but would be president for all the people.
Mr Casey said he was independent and had never voted for a political party. He said it was disingenuous to say we have a defence force that can defend us, this was an outdated concept of neutrality. He said we are not at war any more.
Mr Casey said he was not afraid of a hard Brexit but this was being hyped up by politicians. He said there would never be another border with the North, it was just nonsense. He said it was not the role of the President to get actively involved in a debate. The President is the “influencer-in-chief”, able to guide the debate.
Ms Freeman said there are six months left to ‘fix’ Brexit and that the question of north and south unity is “not here yet”.
Ms Ní Riada said the President could lead the discourse on Brexit. She said with Brexit we are going to see political and constitutional implications. She said because of that, it is about having that dialogue with our citizens so we have that “inclusive preparedness” done for a referendum on a border poll. She said as a president you’re above politics: “this is about having that shared inclusivity, where you respect equality and diversity and people’s identities”. She said she would be president for all people, that includes having that dialogue with Unionists, reaching out that hand of friendship.
When asked what they would say to Trump when he visits Ireland, Ms Ní Riada joked that she would ask him what was up with his hair.
Mr Duffy said he would take the full presidential salary of €325,000. He was worried about Peter Casey’s suggestion to give it to charity as then only people like Peter Casey could afford to be president.
Mr Casey said he believed there should be a salary but not as large as it is or as Gavin wants it to be.
Ms Freeman said there needed to be freedom of information on how the unaudited presidential allownace of €317,000 was being spent. She said she would agree to taking salary and then give a portion of it to start initiatives. She said she had a history of doing this with her Seanad salary.
Ms Ní Riada said she would take a ministerial salary (about €160,000) with the balance returning to the exchequer. The salary should be transparent and accountable.
A spokesman for Mr Higgins this week said the President could not participate in the RTÉ Radio One debate on Thursday as he is “constrained” by pre-existing diary commitments. According to the president’s diary he is today opening a new student centre at DCU and hosting Britain’s Prince Edward.
Former Dragons’ Den investor Mr Gallagher has said he would not take part in the first presidential election debate because Mr Higgins will not be involved.
Submitting his nomination papers on Tuesday, Mr Gallagher said he would not be participating in the debate due to Mr Higgins being absent.
He said the “situation could easily have been avoided had RTÉ contacted the office of the President to find out if indeed the President was available on these scheduled dates”.
Nominations for the presidential election officially closed at noon on Wednesday, with six candidates on the official ballot paper.
The election will take place on October 26th with the new president being inaugurated on November 11th.