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'What's wrong with a President who wears wellies?' - Independent candidates vie for nomination

The presidential race took a huge shift up in gears today.

Joan Freeman meets members of Waterford Council.
Joan Freeman meets members of Waterford Council.
Image: Paul Hosford

THREE POTENTIAL PRESIDENTIAL candidates have addressed Waterford City and County Council today asking councillors to nominate them to run for President.

Senator Joan Freeman, founder of the Pieta House suicide charity, businessman Gavin Duffy and Patrick Feeney all made their case to the council in Waterford city this afternoon.

Though the council cannot make a nomination as yet – the Environment Minister must make a ministerial order officially announcing the election first – all three are hoping that they can garner the support of local authorities to get on the ballot.

To get on the ballot, a person must have the support of four local authorities or 20 members of the Oireachtas.

With Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour TDs and senators all committed to supporting the incumbent Michael D Higgins and Sinn Féin set to run their own candidate, the option of getting nominations through local authorities is looking more and more feasible.

Freeman spoke to the council first, outlining her vision for the Presidency.

“I have a vision for the presidency that I believe nobody else can deliver over the next seven years. First and foremost, that vision is to build a nation that fosters the well-being of our people. I know that the role of the President is above policy making, but it is not above principle,” she said.

“If the Irish people elect me, in my first six months of the presidency I will convene a national assembly on the well-being of our country with some of the key stakeholders. I will publicly commit to having key members in this discourse as members of the Council of State.”

She said that while the President should be above politics, “they should not be above principle”. She said that a President should be free to speak of their outrage in cases such as the CervicalCheck or homelessness crises.

Irish Presidential election Joan Freeman. Source: Niall Carson

In answering questions, Freeman said that she hoped to attract money from those who support her, but said that she was not necessarily a pro-life candidate.

“I voted no, but not for religious reasons. I voted no because I have tried my entire adult life to preserve life.”

She went on to play down links to the Catholic lobby group the Iona Institute.

“Some people on Twitter have made this suggestion. I have a niece who was a very public advocate for a No vote, but my daughter was a very strong advocate for a Yes vote.”

Freeman was unable to respond to a question in Irish, but pledged to learn the language if elected.

Business candidate

Irish Presidential election Source: Niall Carson/PA

Speaking second, Dragons Den star Gavin Duffy underlined his business credentials. He said that he wanted to “bring people together” and be the President of Irish people both home and abroad.

Duffy said that while President Higgins is popular, he believes there will be an election and is confident he can win. He, however, said that he did not know if his “good friend” Sean Gallagher was running for President.

Duffy said that the effects of the Presidency on Irish reputation abroad were massive and said that he would fight for Irish people abroad.

Duffy said that he wants Ireland to be welcoming to all.

“If that is a refugee fleeing war, I want Ireland to have open arms. But we have to have a conversation about what it means to be Irish in a modern, globalised world.”

Duffy downplayed his links to the “Dublin set” and said that he has invested in and advised a number of companies, but has also advised five chairpersons of the Irish Farmers Association.

“I ask, have we ever had a farming President? What’s wrong with a President who wears wellies?”

Asked by reporters about a meeting he had with former Anglo Irish Bank chief Sean Fitzpatrick, Duffy said that he was called to meet the banker shortly after the banking guarantee, but the pair only had one meeting. Duffy said that a Daily Mail photographer happened to be at the building and the meeting made headlines.

Status quo

Irish Presidential election Patrick Feeney. Source: Niall Carson/AP

The last speaker was Patrick Feeney, who introduced himself as a former Aer Lingus worker from Galway. He received 22 votes in the 2016 general election in the Galway West constituency.

He said he “hopes to be a break from the status quo”.

He says that he has been an advocate for health and housing in Galway. Waterford councillor John Cummins called Feeney’s contribution “unimpressive” and said that he had been “disrespectful to women” by describing women in business and sport as being “at a canter”.

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