PIETA HOUSE founder Joan Freeman won a resounding endorsement from Cork City Council last night in her bid become Ireland’s president.
The independent senator had the backing of 14 councillors, with no other candidates receiving a single vote. She was backed by Fianna Fáil, several independents, and Fine Gael councillor PJ Hourican, who broke ranks with his own party. The remainder of Fine Gael abstained, along with Sinn Féin and the Solidarity Party.
Ms Freeman became the second candidate to receive a council nomination after Gavin Duffy was backed by Meath County Council yesterday afternoon. Candidates will need four nominations to contest the election, set for October 26. Prospective candidates will be in Cork again this Friday, seeking a nomination from Cork County Council.
Speaking after the meeting, Ms Freeman said that she was “surprised” and “thrilled” by the overwhelming support.
She credited her work with the Darkness Into Light walk and Pieta House, including the centre she set up in Cork, for the support she received from councillors. “Something very beautiful was said to me by one of the councillors. He said ‘you helped our city, so we’re here to help you now.’” she said.
Ms Freeman, who chairs the Oireachtas mental health committee, said she would hold a mental health policy summit as president and would champion mental health charities. Fianna Fáil councillor Kenneth O’Flynn, who went on to vote for Ms Freeman, asked her why she wanted to leave the Senate for an office with no power to legislate. She described her frustration in spending two years getting the Seanad to pass a bill protecting children from being placed in adult psychiatric units.
“How many children do you think waited during those two years, who were placed in adult psychiatric units? I knew one boy of 14 who couldn’t get anywhere and was placed into Waterford General Hospital in what’s known as ‘The Dungeon’ - because the adult psychiatric unit is based in the basement. He waited 41 days, confined to a room, and he could hear men screaming at night.
“If I visited, as president, ‘The Dungeon’ what do you think would happen?” she said.
“I really believe the president can achieve far, far more,” she added, citing the work of presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese in using the office to raise serious issues and affect change.
Mr Duffy congratulated Ms Freeman on the nomination and said that he is confident that a number of candidates will get the required nominations from local authorities.
During his speech, Mr Duffy focused on his volunteer work with older people and young people.
He said he wants to use the ‘soft powers’ of the presidency to promote respect and diversity, but also wants to work with other parts of the state to promote regional investment and create a voluntary youth corps within the Defence Forces.
Also addressing the meeting were independent John Groarke, Jimmy Smyth, Sarah Louise Mulligan, and journalist Gemma O’Doherty.