Higgins told to ‘tell truth’ over use of jet as debate turns feisty

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Higgins told to ‘tell truth’ over use of jet as debate turns feisty


Presidential candidates Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Seán Gallagher, President Michael D Higgins and Liadh Ní Riada appearing in tonight's debate on RTÉ's Prime Time. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie
Presidential candidates Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Seán Gallagher, President Michael D Higgins and Liadh Ní Riada appearing in tonight’s debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

President Michael D Higgins was told he “couldn’t lie straight in bed” during feisty exchanges over his use of the Government Learjet during the final presidential debate.

Mr Higgins was rounded on by four of the other five candidates as they sought an explanation for his journey on the jet for a visit to Belfast.

Over recent days the President claimed that he flew rather than travelling by road due to security and logistics reasons after consultation with the PSNI. He has now said he was following the advice of his office.

“My office draws on different sources,” Mr Higgins said.

During bruising exchanges, Peter Casey accused the President of lying. Mr Casey said the President needs “to start telling the truth”.

“He was economical with the truth when he said he would only stand for one election,” he said.

Despite being told not to refer to Mr Higgins as a liar, the challenger said: “He couldn’t lie straight in bed.”

Seán Gallagher, who is second in the opinion polls, said Mr Higgins had developed “a pattern of hiding behind security reasons” to explain his travel.



In control: David McCullagh was asking the difficult questions. Photo: INMIn control: David McCullagh was asking the difficult questions. Photo: INM

In control: David McCullagh was asking the difficult questions. Photo: INM

He said that at a time when “so many people in this country are struggling” it sent out the wrong message for the leader of the country to taking a jet less than 160km up the road.

“I think you know in your heart that was not a good move,” he said.

Over the course of the RTÉ ‘Prime Time’ debate, all three Dragon’s Dens investors refused to disclose how much tax they pay – with Peter Casey admitting he does not pay tax in Ireland.

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He said he is working on “posting back” his Green Card which mandates that he pays tax on his worldwide earnings in the US, which he said he is doing at around 46pc.

Sean Gallagher repeatedly said he was compliant in all tax affairs and took issue with a suggestion by Gavin Duffy that his affairs were “very tight” unlike Mr Gallagher or Mr Casey.

However, he moved to qualify his remarks by saying he does not have involvement with several companies unlike the other two, leading Mr Casey to suggest that he should attend one of his own communications courses.

Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada looked uncomfortable as she was repeatedly challenged about previous claims that she takes home the average industrial wage.

She has now admitted that in fact her salary is €60,000 after tax. The MEP puts €13,000 of this into her constituency office and other political expenses.

She claimed the “average wage” is €47,000 – but moderator David McCullagh pointed out that this is well above the average industrial wage.

Under pressure, Ms Ni Riada claimed it was “semantics”.

Mr Gallagher was forced to defend his absence from public life since his failed presidential bid in 2011.

He said it took a decision “not to take part in any media” until he settled his claim against RTÉ over the ‘Frontline’ debate.

“That took me six years which was not my fault,” he said.

Peter Casey claimed that Mr Gallagher did not deserve a “penny” from RTÉ as he “shot himself in the foot” seven years ago.

Last December the broadcaster apologised and paid “substantial damages” to Mr Gallagher.

Meanwhile, Mr Casey was quizzed on his comments about Travellers on Independent.ie’s Floating Voter podcast.

Mr Casey faced calls to withdraw from the race after describing the recognition of Travellers as a distinct ethnic group as “nonsense”.

He again refused to apologise for his comments and fully rejected claims his remarks were racist.

Irish Independent

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