‘Michael D Higgins needs to start telling the truth’ – feisty final TV debate with all presidential candidates hears

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‘Michael D Higgins needs to start telling the truth’ – feisty final TV debate with all presidential candidates hears


Presidential election candidates with presenter David McCullagh at the RTÉ Prime Time Presidential Debate
JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY
Presidential election candidates with presenter David McCullagh at the RTÉ Prime Time Presidential Debate
JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY
Presidential election candidates Michael D. Higgins and Sean Gallagher at the RTÉ Prime Time Presidential Debate
JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY. NO FEE. 
Prime Time’s David McCullough with the six presidential candidates
Peter Casey and his wife Helen arrive at RTE Studios for Primetime Presidential Election 2018 debate
Picture: Caroline Quinn
Sean Gallagher and his wife Trish arrive at RTE Studios for Primetime Presidential Election 2018 debate
Picture: Caroline Quinn
President Michael D. Higgins and his wife Sabina arrive at RTE Studios for Primetime Presidential election 2018 debate
Picture: Caroline Quinn

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins “couldn’t lie straight in bed”, it has been alleged during a feisty start to the final presidential debate.

Mr Higgins was rounded on by four of the other five candidates as they sought an explanation for why he took the Government’s Learjet for a visit to Belfast.

Over recent days the President claimed that he flew rather than travelling by road after 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 economic with the truth when he said he would only stand for one election,” he said.



Presidential election candidates Michael D. Higgins and Sean Gallagher at the RTÉ Prime Time Presidential Debate
JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY. NO FEE. Presidential election candidates Michael D. Higgins and Sean Gallagher at the RTÉ Prime Time Presidential Debate
JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY. NO FEE. 

Presidential election candidates Michael D. Higgins and Sean Gallagher at the RTÉ Prime Time Presidential Debate
JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY. NO FEE. 

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

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

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 100 miles up the road.

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

Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada said it was “disappointing” that the President didn’t have the foresight to publish his expenses for the past seven years.

Mr Higgins said he is “not comfortable with any extravagance” and question whether “the jet have been better on the ground not being used.”

Candidate Peter Casey has said he thinks it is racist to recognise Traveller ethnicity as he rejected the label following comments he made on the Independent.ie’s Floating Voter podcast.

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

He has since said that he did not know that the State had officially recognised Traveller ethnicity.

He again refused to apologise for his comments and fully rejected claims his remarks were racist, saying he does “not regard Travellers as a different race to me so how could I be racist?”

In an exchange with rival candidate Gavin Duffy, Mr Casey said “it would b racist to recognise it [the ethnic status of Travellers]… they’re normal people like you and I.”

Mr Casey also claimed that Travellers were afforded benefits such as “housing and land” due to their ethnic status.

He claimed his comments on the podcast “was’t an attack, it was an observation.”

Mr Higgins said “it just simply isn’t acceptable to be taking this vulnerable  community and regarding them as the starting point and then moving on to other vulnerable people”, such as those on social welfare.

Sean Gallagher claimed he has not taken an active role in public life since his failed presidential bid in 2011 because he was pursuing a legal case against RTÉ.

He settled a case against the national broadcaster last December over events that occurred during the ‘Frontline’ debate in the days before the 2011 election.

Mr Gallagher said he decided “not to take part in any media until that was completed.

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

The businessman pointed out that no live tweets were read during the Prime Time debate as a result of his action.

“If I had been a Minister for Communication I would probably not have brought as much positive change,” he said.

Mr Gallagher added that if he felt if he had entered debates such as the same-sex marriage referendum, he could have been accused of he was “making a political football out of it”.

Candidates were asked to outline why they wanted to be President, leading Sean Gallagher to say that he wants to succeed Mr Higgins.

“I respect Michael D for the half century of service he has given. I would like to continue some of the great work that Michael D has done,” he said.

“I believe now that it is time for change. That’s no disrespect for Michael D. The next seven years are going to be different.”

Mr Higgins said that throughout his political career he has initiated change.

“I haven’t just been responding to change,” he said.

“A president can initiate the discussion on why a deeply unequal society can reproduce itself.”

The President criticised proposals from Gavin Duffy to develop a ‘youth corp’ that would see young people volunteer abroad for a period.

Mr Higgins said the developing world needs help but it won’t be achieved by “sending thousands of young people abroad for a short time”.

“They could in fact be a burden,” he said.

All three Dragon’s Dens investors refused to disclose how much tax they pay – with Mr Casey admitting he does not pay tax in Ireland.

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.

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

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.

None of the three would say how much tax they paid in 2017.

Ms Ni Riada said she would take on the “cosy consensus” and the Aras needs a “modern progressive person”.

She accused the Labour Party of inflicted austerity – but then found herself defending cuts made by her own party in Northern Ireland.

Ms Ni 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 McCullough pointed out that this is well above the average industrial wage.

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

Joan Freeman questioned why the debate wasn’t focusing on real issues like homelessness and addiction.

The debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time was the second and final time that all six candidates will face off against each other.

All of the candidates except for Mr Higgins will appear on the last televised debate on Virgin Media One on Wednesday.

Online Editors

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