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Live debates row: Gallagher told to 'stop hiding behind Michael D' by Ní Riada

Incumbent candidate Michael D Higgins has been criticised for not taking part in all scheduled live debates.

Image: Sean Gallagher

THERE’S A ROW going on between presidential candidates over who is attending televised debates – the latest chapter involves a letter being sent to the Áras.

Michael D Higgins won’t be taking part in each live debate that’s been organised – he won’t take part in tonight’s debate on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live, for example. This has prompted criticism from his fellow candidate, Gallagher, who has in turn opted to refuse debates where all candidates won’t take part.

Last night, Gallagher said he sent a letter to Michael D Higgins at the Áras explaining that he defended Higgins’ decision not to appear on RTÉ Radio One’s News At One debate as it clashed with other presidential commitments.

“However, on this occasion, I note there are no public engagements in your diary for Monday that preclude you from participating in the Claire Byrne Live debate, and your decision, as stated by you, is a political one in the context of this campaign.”

He then urges Higgins to take part in the live debate, saying that he has left a space in his schedule for the Claire Byrne show.

Today, Higgins’ camp responded by saying that Gallagher shouldn’t send letters to the Áras, but should instead direct them to his campaign office on Lord Edward Street.

“President Michael D Higgins will fulfil the debate engagements that he announced publicly on 2 October,” the statement added.

Another presidential candidate, Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada, said that Gallagher should “stop hiding behind” Higgins and turn up for the debate.

“No one should have a misplaced sense of entitlement in this election. Not credible to stand for office and not turn up to debate the issue,” she said.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News tonight, Higgins was asked about why he wouldn’t attend tonight’s debate. He said:

For a start I have been answering political questions since 1969. I have never in fact worried about answering political questions.
But I have agreed to do two public debates with all candidates: one with RTÉ and another with Virgin One. I’m very happy to do that.

“I know there are people who will be disappointed – I know Claire Byrne, I’ve interviewed her before. But choices have to be made and I have for example agreed to two television debates, I’ve done a number of radio debates and one-to-one interviews with the print media.

“I think it’s very important to realise we discussed all of this before I even started the campaign, and we laid out the constraints around me.”

He said that he has a great respect for RTÉ and the people of Ireland.

“And [the Irish people] want me to give precedence to the presidency, So what I’m doing is putting the presidency first, and my candidature has to take second place.”

The Claire Byrne live debate starts at 9.35pm tonight. You can follow our liveblog of the debate by our reporter Daragh Brophy here.

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