Prime Time Presidential Debate – More Questions than Answers?

For the most part, the second ‘Prime Time’ presidential debate covered well-trodden ground and didn’t tell us anything new. However, there were sporadic bursts of life throughout the 90 minute exchange, including Martin McGuinness labelling Miriam O’Callaghan’s line of questioning as “stupid” and independent candidate Seán Gallagher being branded a member of the Fianna Fáil “gene pool”.

Perhaps, however, the most pivotal moment of the debate came towards its end as Dana Rosemary Scallon unexpectedly read out a statement claiming that allegations “of a most untrue, malicious and vile nature” were being made against a family member and would soon become public knowledge. When urged to elaborate on these allegations, Ms Scallon refused. Although she insisted her family had sought legal advice and would “leave no stone unturned to expose the malicious intent at the heart of these untrue allegations”. As of yet, no more details have emerged regarding her comments and what they may refer to. In a further twist, Ms Scallon will not be out on the campaign trail today.

Senator David Norris empathised with Dana during the debate as he said he understood what it was like to be the victim of a media “firestorm”.

Dana’s full statement can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFGr69dvPeM

In the earlier stages of the debate, Mr McGuinness was extensively questioned on his past association with the IRA. He took particular exception when Miriam O’Callaghan asked him how he squared his Catholic beliefs with being involved with an organisation that played a part in the murder of so many people. He said he believed that when people are being treated as second class citizens, they have the right to resist. He also labelled the suggestion that he knows specific details about the killings of individuals as “stupid”. He went on to state that he “unreservedly condemned” the killings of defence forces and Gardaí during the Troubles, adding that “A very large percentage of the Irish army are going to vote for me in this election.”

The candidates remained relatively silent when Ms O’Callaghan asked whether they had reservations with Mr McGuinness’s name being present on the ballot paper. Mr Norris stated he was “extremely glad that Martin McGuinness has abandoned violence and turned toward party political methods” while Mary Davis, when asked directly, said that McGuinness has a democratic right to stand in the election and it’s up to the people to decide his placing in the polls. When Ms Davis went on to say she didn’t see the role of the President as a political one, Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell accused her of not fully understanding the position.

Seán Gallagher denied being a closet Fianna Fáiler despite his past association with the party, whom he refused to criticise for the role they played in the country’s economic downturn. He admitted that he considered running for Fianna Fáil in last general election, but George Lee’s short-lived stint as a member of Fine Gael led him to believe he would achieve little in party politics.

When questioned, Labour’s Michael D Higgins was adamant that, if elected, he would have no issue with travelling to Israel despite his vocal support for Palestine. He said he has spent his political life promoting human rights at home and abroad.

According to the candidates, the most important roles of the President are as follows:

McGuinness: The chief responsibility of the president is to protect the constitution.

Davis: The most important power the president has is in Article 26; the ability to refer bills to the supreme court.

Gallagher: The most important powers of the president are to set a “theme” and to represent the country abroad.

Higgins: The powers in Article 13.2 are where you stamp yourself on the presidency. It is important that the president isn’t assuming the will of the parliament.

Dana: Maintaining the constitution on behalf of the people is the most important role of the president.

Norris: Being the voice of the people is the most important power of the president.

Mitchell: The single most important power the president has is the mandate from the people.

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