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Debate Update - It's moving to Thursday, Sean Gallagher is in (sort of), but things are less clear for Michael D

The incumbent has officially announced his candidacy this afternoon.

Updated Sep 24th 2018, 5:52 PM

Ploughing Championships 2017 President Michael D Higgins at the Ploughing Championships last year. Source: Sam Boal

THERE IS CONFUSION over the format of an RTÉ presidential debate, originally due to take place this Wednesday, as the participation of President Michael D Higgins remains unclear. 

With the president officially lodging his nomination papers for a re-election bid this afternoon, it has now emerged that the debate is moving to Thursday lunchtime on RTÉ’s News at One from the Wednesday slot it had been apportioned.

Meanwhile, Sean Gallagher has confirmed that he will definitely be in attendance at that debate, provided it features all candidates. But the participation of the president remains up in the air.

A spokesperson for Higgins this afternoon said that he is “looking forward to engaging with the other candidates, and answering journalists’ questions, over the next five weeks”, but that he is “constrained” this week because of pre-existing diary commitments on Thursday and Friday.

“The campaign team looks forward to talking to broadcasters to explore how this can be done in appropriate and informative ways, and within the constraints of the President’s role and diary,” they said, adding that the President’s official campaign launch on Wednesday would give the media the opportunity to put its questions to him.

Gallagher said this afternoon that election debates “are an important part of the democratic process and they need to be centred on the principle of inclusivity and fairness for all candidates”, adding that it is “crucial” that any debate feature all candidates.

“It is crucial therefore that all candidates participate fully in debates to allow the electorate hear of their vision for the next seven years of the Presidency. Seán Gallagher has publicly committed to participating in all debates which include all candidates,” a spokesperson for his campaign said.

The debate on Thursday has seen all candidates issued with an invite, RTÉ confirmed, without confirming which of those candidates had agreed to participate.

“In the event that a candidate is not available, the programme will broadcast on-air their reason for not participating,” a spokesperson said.

Further details regarding the confirmed participants and structure of the programme will be announced closer to the broadcast.

Headache

The timing of the presidential nomination announcements has proven to be a headache for the national broadcaster.

Wednesday is the final day for candidates to be officially nominated before the 26 October vote. Gallagher is expected to lodge his own nomination papers tomorrow morning.

Gallagher had previously said he’d refuse to take part in debates unless the incumbent was also involved.

Speaking at the National Ploughing Championships, Gallagher said that “all the candidates should have an opportunity to be at all the debates”.

The campaign teams of the other candidates in the race have each said they will take part in the RTÉ debate, but several also acknowledged that they had not been told exactly who will be taking part. 

The campaign teams have been told by RTÉ that if the candidate does not appear for the debate they are obliged to provide a reason why they are not in attendance. 

Asked about his attendance at debates last week, President Higgins said only that he has “never pulled back” from campaigning. 

Spokespersons for Gavin Duffy, Peter Casey and Senator Joan Freeman and have each said they would be attending the forthcoming debate regardless of who else was attending.

“Gavin Duffy in favour of an open debate for president and he intends to be at RTÉ on Wednesday. He plans to be there and looks forward to debating with the other candidates about the future of the presidency,” the businessman’s spokesperson said. 

Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has also said she would be attending and has previously called on all candidates to participate in debates. 

“Úachtarán na hÉireann is an extremely important elected position and it is vitally important that all candidates for the post clearly outline their vision for the role and the values they would promote in office. All candidates owe this to the electorate,” she said last week. 

Casey also made a similar call to the other candidates in a response to queries today and said he too would be attending on Wednesday. He also criticised Gallagher’s stance in threatening to not attend the debate.

“I think I can understand why Sean doesn’t want to do the debate, because it didn’t work out too well for him the last time. I am serious about my Presidential bid and will be attending all of the debates in the interest of voters. All candidates who were nominated should participate in debates,” he said.

With reporting by Cianan Brennan

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