Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Hopefuls oppose head-to-head debate

A shock opinion poll revealed Labour's Michael D Higgins had slipped into second place
Sinn Fein's presidential candidate Martin McGuinness
Senator David Norris has said he is the only truly independent candidate

Suggestions that the two leading candidates in the presidential race will square up in a one-to-one debate have been dismissed.

The idea was firmly ruled out by several contenders amid claims that it would isolate the rest of the field from frontrunners, Independent Sean Gallagher and Labour's Michael D Higgins.

The prospect of a head-to-head battle between the pair emerged after a shock opinion poll revealed Mr Higgins had slipped into second place. Mr Gallagher dismissed the possibility of an invite out of hand as unfair and said it will never happen.

"Why would we exclude five other candidates?" he said. "We've been through 12 or 13 presidential debates so far and a few more to go. I feel that would be unfair on the other five candidates."

Joe Costello, director of elections for Mr Higgins, said the Labour man was open to the idea of a one-to-one but stressed it is a purely hypothetical prospect. "Michael D never issued a challenge to a one-to-one debate with anybody but there was a hypothetical suggestion made," he said. "But he would be willing to take up that challenge if it arose."

Mr Costello added that the Labour candidate has 12 media interviews planned for the rest of the campaign and at least six will involve collective debates with all his opponents.

The idea was rejected on Monday at the Inclusion Ireland conference, the national association for people with an intellectual disability, in the Mansion House Dublin and attended by all candidates except Dana Rosemary Scallon.

"I'm just leaving a conference now on Inclusion Ireland and I think that will not be very inclusive," Mr Gallagher said.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness, who is trailing the pair in third place in the opinion polls, also ridiculed Mr Higgins' call, saying presidential debates should focus on real issues and not just candidates from the establishment.

"Both of those are from the establishment. I'm the only real non-establishment candidate. Michael D Higgins represents a party that's imposing austerity on the people of Ireland and Sean Gallagher represents a party that was involved in bank bailouts," Mr McGuinness said.

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