Fianna Fáil expected to be split over nomination for President

Fianna Fáil expected to be split over nomination for President
Sean Gallagher and Senator Joan Freeman seated side by side during the special meeting of Cork County Council.Pic; Larry Cummins

FIANNA Fáil county councillors are expected to be split at a meeting next week over nominating Seán Gallagher or Senator Joan Freeman for the upcoming Presidential election.

The two prospective candidates addressed members at County Hall yesterday. Several others had been due to attend but did not show on the day.

Councillors have the weekend to propose candidates in writing, and a special sitting will be held on Thursday where councillors will vote.

Sinn Féin will abstain in the vote, and Fine Gael are expected to either abstain or vote against any candidates. That means that candidates will need the support of some combination of Fianna Fáil, independents, the Social Democrats, and Labour.

Opposing groups in Fianna Fáil are seeking support for Mr Gallagher and Ms Freeman. Mr Gallagher, a former Fianna Fáil staffer and fundraiser, had strong support in Cork County in the 2011 Presidential election, while Ms Freeman has strong links through her Pieta House charity and Darkness Into Light walk, and was one of Micheál Martin’s picks for the Seanad in 2016. Independent councillors are expected to break for Ms Freeman, who already picked up a nomination from Cork City Council on Monday night.

Sean Gallagher arrives for the special meeting of Cork County Council. It was his first meeting since announcing his intention to seek a nomination.Pic; Larry Cummins
Sean Gallagher arrives for the special meeting of Cork County Council. It was his first meeting since announcing his intention to seek a nomination.Pic; Larry Cummins

The meeting was one of the first that Mr Gallagher attended since announcing his candidacy last week and, similar to other meetings, he spent much of his speech addressing the 2011 race, which he lost after a controversial RTÉ Frontline debate. Last year, he won an apology and undisclosed settlement from RTÉ over a false tweet which was read out on air, as he struggled to explain his role in a Fianna Fáil fundraiser several years previously.

“What happened that night in that studio changed the outcome of the general election. I have to put my hands up and say quite honestly that that evening I did let myself down, and I let those councils down, and for that I am sorry,” he said.

However, he claimed that he was vindicated after holding RTÉ to account for its editorial failure, and said that he did it to ensure that other candidates would be treated fairly by the State broadcaster in the future.

Sean Gallagher speaking to the council during the special meeting of Cork County Council.Pic; Larry Cummins
Sean Gallagher speaking to the council during the special meeting of Cork County Council.Pic; Larry Cummins

Mr Gallagher said that he wanted to build upon the work of President Michael D Higgins, who beat him in 2011.

“I am not seeking to be Michael D Higgins’ replacement - I am seeking to be his successor,” he said.

He said that he would seek to support people with disabilities if elected President, citing his own issue with a congenital vision impairment.

He said that he would aim for his first overseas visit to be with Irish troops serving on peacekeeping missions.

Independent councillor Marcia D’Alton said that she admired Ms Freeman’s efforts with Pieta House, but said that she struggled to see what she did as a Senator, based on the state of mental health care in Cork.

Senator Joan Freeman speaking to the council.Pic; Larry Cummins
Senator Joan Freeman speaking to the council.Pic; Larry Cummins

Ms Freeman said that she invited service users and providers to the Oireachtas, founded and chairs the first Oireachtas Mental Health Committee, and passed a motion through the Seanad stopping children from being placed in adult psychiatric wards.

However, she said she could use the Presidency to do more by drawing attention to serious problems.

“They were the only things I could do. My role as a Senator is not good enough. Remember that wherever the President goes, so does the public; so does the media. If I make the Presidency, I want you to invite me to your town, and I promise you I will draw attention to what’s happening there,” she said.

Senator Joan Freeman speaking to the council.Pic; Larry Cummins
Senator Joan Freeman speaking to the council.Pic; Larry Cummins

Ms Freeman was asked by Sinn Féin councillor Paul Hayes if her personal views would stop her from signing a bill that she disagreed with into law.

“I’ll be very frank. I voted no in the most recent referendum. I voted yes in the same-sex marriage referendum. They were my personal convictions. As President, my personal convictions would have nothing to do with my public duties. This is about the voice of the people - that is what a referendum is - and it must be signed and passed into law.”

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