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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 15 November, 2018
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Sinn Féin's Liadh Ní Riada says she would wear a poppy as president

The Sinn Féin candidate’s answer was greeted with applause, at the first TV debate.

Updated Oct 15th 2018, 11:59 PM

SINN FÉIN PRESIDENTIAL candidate Liadh Ní Riada has said she would wear a poppy on Armistice Day as a symbol of goodwill to the unionist community, if elected president. 

Her statement was greeted with the first round of applause of the night from the studio audience at the Claire Byrne Live presidential debate, which took place earlier tonight. 

Ní Riada, who has said she would support a border poll, said that wearing the symbol would help show how Ireland has matured as a society. 

The MEP’s announcement was the only real surprise of the night, aside from an incident in the second half of the live programme when a heckler had to be removed from the studio. 

Otherwise, the candidates played to type with Senator Joan Freeman talking up her experience at mental health charity Pieta House, Peter Casey taking another opportunity to bring up his ‘Birth Right’ programme for children of emigrants and Gavin Duffy insisting the country needs a president with energy. 

Sean Gallagher and President Michael D Higgins did not take part in the debate, and the participants – particularly Duffy and Casey – took several opportunities to criticise the two men for their non-appearances. 

Host Claire Byrne also came in for sharp criticism from Duffy at one point – after she read a statement from a spokesperson for Higgins taking issue with an earlier statement from Casey about the president’s dog-grooming expenses. 

NO FEE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE CLAIRE BYRNE LIVE JB5 Peter Casey, Liadh Ní Riada, Joan Freeman and Gavin Duffy.

The candidates each gave largely uncontroversial answers to a question about whether they would refuse to meet any particular foreign leader as president (they all said they would meet anyone who was invited by the government despite any personal reservations).

Similarly, there were no major slip-ups as the hopefuls were asked if they had a favourite part of the Constitution. 

When asked about the Council of State Duffy said he would appoint a number of county councillors to the advisory panel while Casey ran into some difficulty when, after saying he would appoint seven women, hesitated when asked for specific names (to laughs, he eventually suggested Joan Freeman and Claire Byrne herself before the debate moved on). 

Freeman, meanwhile, had arguably the best zinger of the night. After the presenter quoted Michael D Higgins as saying that, as president, he no longer had any privacy, the senator responded: 

Well I think he does because he’s not here tonight.

Byrne said she was asking the poppy question as Armistice Day this year will coincide with the planned inauguration day for the next president. 

Casey and Freeman both said they would wear a poppy if elected while Duffy, who answered after Ní Riada, said he wouldn’t wear any symbol but that he would lay a wreath as part of his role as President. 

(The question of whether or not to wear a poppy can be a complicated one for Irish politicians: Leo Varadkar made an effort to come up with a compromise last year when he sported a shamrock poppy in the Dáil). 

There are two more presidential debates scheduled to take place before polling day on Friday week.

All six candidates are expected to take part in a Virgin Media One debate hosted by Pat Kenny on Wednesday and in a Prime Time debate on Tuesday of next week. 

- With reporting by Daragh Brophy 

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