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Thursday 5 October 2023 Dublin: 14°C
Virgin Media One The five presidential candidates with hosts Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates ahead of this year's final presidential debate
# aras 18
Spilled milk as five Áras hopefuls draw blank when asked about Jobseekers Allowance and dairy prices
Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Sean Gallagher and Liadh Ní Riada faced off for the final time ahead of polling day on Friday.

CANDIDATES IN THIS year’s Áras race have faced off for the final time before the Irish electorate decides who will become the country’s next President.

Peter Casey, Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Sean Gallagher and Liadh Ní Riada all took part in one last debate on Virgin Media One this evening ahead of polling day on Friday.

It was the first time that five candidates participated in a debate this year, with Seán Gallagher announcing yesterday that he would reverse a decision not to appear at any debates not attended by incumbent president Michael D Higgins.

But despite the last-minute addition, no new information was forthcoming from the five presidential hopefuls as the race for the Áras enters its final days.

In what was perhaps the debate’s standout moment, none of the candidates was able to give a correct answer when quizzed about how much those who are paid social welfare receive.

Price of milk

A complaint by Casey about social welfare recipients, which came after the businessman said he would be a president who would “represent minorities”, led host Ivan Yates to ask him how much was paid to those on Jobseekers Allowance.

The question was met with silence, prompting Yates to ask the other four candidates whether they knew the answer.

More silence ensued before Duffy incorrectly guessed €96.

The five candidates were subsequently asked if they knew the price of a litre of milk, with Duffy’s guess of €2.76 the only direct answer again.

Meanwhile, Ní Riada used the question as an opportunity to take aim at the three Dragons’ Den contestants in the race.

“It depends on whether you shop in Lidl or Tesco,” she said. “That’s where I shop, unlike the millionaires around me who probably have their shopping done for them.”

For the most part, the five candidates largely rehashed claims about their suitability for the Office of President and the problems with their rivals from previous debates.

Seismic changes

Gallagher outlined his credentials as a businessmen, before criticising Higgins for breaking a promise in 2011 that he would only serve one term.

Asked about her expenses as a Member of European Parliament, Ní Riada said: “I have no issue whatsoever in publishing my accounts, and I have been the only candidate here who has disclosed what I take home.”

Freeman – repeatedly referred to by Yates as “Saint Joan” – pointed to her work with Pieta House, suggesting that the role of the president was about the people of Ireland, rather than policies or the economy.

“I had a ball of fear nearly every time I came to do a debate, but it made me realise again … that we need now to focus on mental health in Ireland,” she said.

Casey, meanwhile, outlined his plans for a Council of State and attempted to use his controversial comments about the Travelling Community last week to his advantage.

“You’ve seen what I’ve been able to achieve in the last week in terms of stimulating debate,” he said.

Duffy argued that he has “resonated with people” for his whole life, saying that it was important for a president to understand, as he did, the “seismic changes” that Ireland will experience during the next few years.

The election takes place this Friday, 26 October, when polling stations will be open across the country from 7am to 10pm.

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