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We bring you live coverage of the seven presidential candidates’ appearance on Prime Time as the opening day of the first election campaign for Áras an Uachtaráin in 14 years draws to a close.

Good evening, and welcome to our live coverage of the appearance of all seven candidates for president on Prime Time tonight.

Apologies if you’ve been seeing updates from the Champions League. If  you’re interested, Conor Nagle has all the latest here.

So what can we expect tonight?
Well the RTÉ Prime Time blog informs us that presenters Miriam O’Callaghan and Richard Crowley have been interviewing all the candidates today and that they will each be given the “same amount of time to make their pitch and explain why you should be giving them your first preference”.
After we hear from the candidates we’re expecting a panel of experts to assess how they got on. As for us, we’ll be bringing you a minute-by-minute summary of what the candidates and the experts are saying.
Mary Davis, Seán Gallagher, Gay Mitchell and Michael D Higgins have been at a debate in UCD this evening. Will they be settling into watch their performance on Prime Time now? Perhaps later they’ll be mulling over their performance on the first debate of the campaign on the News at One this afternoon. In case you missed it, here’s what happened.

Anne Doyle has finished the Nine O’Clock News which means were minutes away from showtime. We’ve got our tactical can of coke and jaffa cakes to keep us supplied.

Unfortunately we cannot help but update you on majestic Barcelona smashing BATE for five but we promise that’s the last of it and if you want to follow tonight’s Champions League action, head this way.

We’re underway. Richard Crowley and Miriam O’Callaghan are setting the scene.

Michael D Higgins is up first

Higgins emphasises his “broad” experience and him having been in elected office. “I understand the presidency”. Acknowledges that he will be limited by the office. “You are not an organised opponent of government of the day”.

Higgins: “You have to be yourself”. You have to be inclusive at home and building reputation of Ireland abroad and “undo damage” that has been done to reputation abroad.

Higgins believes he will have no difficulties visiting places like China and Israel which he has been critical of in the past. Talks about “appropriate diplomacy”.

Higgins says he wants to bring his life values to the “circus” of Ireland.

Miriam O’Callaghan is asking Higgins the questions, by the way. It’s a pre-recorded interview. Higgins points out he has travelled 23k miles since last April. Wowser.

Higgins says he will “absolutely” be able for the travelling involved in being president of Ireland.

Higgins says his health “is fine”. “My health is excellent,” he adds. His greatest weakness will be trying to communicate to everyone, saying he’s not always successful at doing this.

Says it will be important to campaign in the Gaeltacht areas and debate in Irish.

Next is Gay Mitchell, Fine Gael’s candidate and current MEP for Dublin. Richard Crowley asking the questions here.

Mitchell says wrong decision will put Ireland in a bad place. Says its important to make right decision in the election.

Mitchell points out his experience in campaigning for “decent housing”. Very interested in prison reform, and making prisoners take responsibility. Lot we can do to improve society: “We pass legislation in Ireland and that’s the end of it”.

Mitchell says he does not have a Catholic ethos. Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, all religions will be welcomed in the Áras. Mitchell says he can name flat complexes where nobody has gone to university. Needs to be more inclusion in Ireland.

Mitchell wants government to open access to university. Dodges question on third level fees, not a matter for the president. Wants to see system which gives access to people.

Mitchell doesn’t want parents “Skyping” their children abroad. Need to create opportunities. Question now being accessed about clemency letter for Florida double murderer.

Mitchell says he raised death penalty sixteen times in the Dáil. Case of Nigerian women stoned to death. He is against death penalty – it is “abhorrent”.

Mitchell says he wrote about a large number of cases.  People like Amnesty will contact him. Says he takes up cases which are valid. Will campaign for anyone who is put to death if case is brought to his attention.

Mitchell finishes defending low poll numbers.

Martin McGuinness now.

McGuinness tells Miriam O’Callaghan says election is about leadership. His leadership has been tested. He has been at heart of all big decisions being taken here.

McGuinness answers question about IRA membership. Says civil rights movement was met with brute force. Brings it back to him being someone at heart of peace process.

McGuinness says he was convicted of IRA membership in 73 and 74. Was never convicted or charged with membership after that.

McGuinness says he engaged with the IRA, engagement brought about IRA ceasefire.

McGuinness says some people have inflated his role in the IRA. People of Ireland are fairer than some of the journalists that are around.

McGuinness says he accepts being elected as president of Ireland but regards country as 32 counties and will travel to all of them. Mary McAleese regards herself as president of all Ireland.

McGuinness says he was not senior in the IRA when the Enniskillen bombing happened. Feels ashamed of attacks carried out in name of Irish republicanism. Hopes to bring people off dole queues who he can pay with his wages.

Next up is Mary Davis.

Richard Crowley asking the questions here. Davis emphasises she is a totally independent candidate. Thinks she is the only true independent in the field.

Davis says president can play huge role in repairing Ireland’s reputation abroad.

Davis answers question on her membership of various state boards. Says she has seen change organisations can bring about. Says she is proud of being member of all those boards and seeing they change they have brought. Acknowledges she was appointed to many of them by Fianna Fáil but says she has worked with all parties including the Rainbow coalition in the 1990s.

Davis says she is defined by her values got grown up in Mayo of fairness and respect. Says she is of no political persuasion. In Irish political life cites Garret FitzGerald and Seán Lemass as some politicians she admires.

Davis says she brought pride to Ireland during the Special Olympics. “We need that sense of hope and self confidence”. Says motivation she has had in her life is to make society better in Ireland.

Davis says president’s salary should not be more than Taoiseach’s but says it is up to the government. It’s more about how you put the salary to work when you do get it. Says she has number of ideas about how to do this.

A break now with Dana Rosemary Scallon, David Norris and Seán Gallagher still to come.

And we’re back.

Dana Rosemary Scallon up next.

Scallon says her presidency will be about rebuilding trust in institutions of state. It will be presidency for the people “who know me”.

Scallon says she knew 14 years ago that presidency belonged to people yet independent had never been on the ballot. She opened process for the people by getting on the ballot. People knew her as winner of Eurovision but by end of presidential campaign in 1997 people realised that she said what she thought.

Scallon say family tragedies left her reeling. When election campaign began, she was anxious that the council route be open to candidates. Says signing up for Celebrity Bainisteor is different to running for president.

“I don’t think I’m stupid,” says Scallon. Says she has ability to learn very quickly and says she will grow into role of president if elected. Focus will be on the people.

Scallon says bill for abortion to be legalised will not become before her if president.

*come before her

“I do not have extreme views, I am not an extremist.” Defends accusations of being an “Ayatollah” when she was in the European Parliament. Says she defended Irish people while she was an MEP.

“I cry easy, but I do feel for people,” Scallon says.  Wants people to trust institutions of country. “I can be president for all the people of this country.” And with that Dana’s interview finished. David Norris next.

Norris says he is completely independent, friends in all political parties. Fatally governments all over Europe put interest of establishment above welfare of people. Welfare of people should come first.

Norris says he was protecting people who supported from collateral damage when he left the race in August. Political commentators underestimated feelings of Irish people in wanting him in the race. Said situation involving 15-year-old and Ezra Nawi was very serious. Quotes gospel in justifying his decision to appeal for clemency for Nawi.

Norris says he got legal advice not to publish letters pertaining to Nawi over the last week or so. Says advice has come from Israel in the last day that certain references in letters could break law if released. “Deep wounds” created by that case. Wants to cause no further pain.

Norris says he didn’t want the entire thing to happen. Apologises for letters coming up, says it hurts people who are being damaged by the letters. Asks to move on from the issue. Says his life has been “an open book”.

Norris says he had great concern for young boy he did not know. Says he cannot reveal content of letters even if he wanted to.

Norris says he’s pretty good at “lateral thinking” in getting around any issues of conflict that might arise with government if president. And the interview concludes.

Finally, Seán Gallagher talking to Miriam O’Callaghan cites his life experiences and talks about job creation.

Gallagher says he’s been “in and out Fianna Fáil”. Says office of president is not about party politics, that’s why he is standing as an independent. Turning around the country is what he is about. Focused on real issue, says he’s never been a politician.

Gallagher says there are heroes everywhere. Wants to change national conversation and stop the doom and gloom. Wants to return to community spirit and harness that. Wants to work with government to harness job creation.

Wants to focus on job creation in the way Mary McAleese focused on the peace process. Jobs hold communities together he believes. “I’m not going to create a job,” he says.

Gallagher believes role of trade missions should not be underestimated in their ability to create jobs.

Gallagher talks about his disability and understanding those with disabilities. Talks about understanding what it’s like to be unemployed. Says he understands the law having worked on legislation with Senator Fergal Quinn. Says in instance of a bill being put before him where an issue arises he will seek advice of Council of State.

Gallagher says his weakness is being driven and not taking it easy enough.

Gallagher says everybody can make a difference. Would like to look back in seven years and say that Ireland is a more confident country and has returned to core values of community and the collective. Wants to be face of new Ireland.

And that concludes the interviews and Prime Time. Miriam signs off and that’s that. What did we all think?

Ryan Tubridy plugs his own presidential debate this Friday on the Late Late Show. We’ll be live-blogging that too. It’s likely to be a little more combative than tonight’s proceedings which was a largely sedate affair.

Coming away from tonight, candidates will probably be hoping that they got their core message across to the Irish people as the month-long campaign continues tomorrow. That’s all for tonight but we’ll be back tomorrow with more from the Race for the Áras. Thanks for joining us.

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Hugh O'Connell

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