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Liadh Ní Riada explains 'below the belt' comment to Joan Freeman in presidential debate

Presidential candidate Liadh Ní Riada has spoken about her "below the belt" comment to Joan Freeman in last night's debate.

Ms Freeman had referred to a €120,000 loan she had got from an old friend, US businessman Des Walsh, and has already said that she intends to pay it back at the SIPO interest rate of 9% over the next five years.

During last night's debate, Ms Ní Riada referred to the loan, saying: "Whatever relationship you had with this guy who's giving you money, I don't know about your personal finances, I wouldn't be in a position to take out a loan. I have a mortgage, I have bills."

Ms Freeman, taken back by the comment said: "I think that was a bit below the belt. It's totally unnecessary and my husband of 36 years is in the audience here.

[quote]"The boyfriend I had at 19 years of age has no impact on who I am today."[/quote]

Ms Ní Riada was on the Today with Sean O'Rourke show on RTE Radio 1, the morning after the Claire Byrne Live debate, and Sean asked her: "Was it a low blow?"

She said that she was still thinking about the poppy question and apologised to Ms Freeman after the debate.

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She said: "I think it was unfortunate, it was something that was said quite flippantly.

"I didn't mean it in any way to be insulting or derogatory to Joan and I hadn't been following where she was getting her finances, so there was a little bit of a misunderstanding, so I did apologise to Joan afterwards.

"I commend Joan for the work she has done, she has done great work for Pieta House."

In the interview she addressed Sean's question on wearing the poppy on Armistice day, saying: "It was a real struggle for me to even have said that last night".

However, she continued by saying that she would be a president for all of Ireland, saying: "I would hope that they would see that this is about having that shared discussion and creating that platform for dialogue.

"I certainly would want to reach in and talk about this. I would be taking that courageous move of wearing a poppy to show them that it is about respecting their identity and it is about including them on this island."

She also spoke of Mairia Cahill and that "she was failed by Sinn Féin", saying that "there was no mandatory reporting at the time", before she extended the hand of friendship to Ms Cahill saying that an apology from her would never be enough.

On the salary of the President, Ms Ní Riada said that she believes it should be halved and that if elected she would, in a sign of solidarity with others, "lead by example".