Senator Joan Freeman pledges to encourage national wellbeing if elected president

Update 9.53pm: Senator Joan Freeman, who is vying for her place to become Ireland’s next president, said she will “courageously speak out” on fundamental issues and will fight for those who have been neglected.

In her first public presentation for the presidency, Ms Freeman pledged to set up a National Assembly of wellbeing if she is elected.

She is one of three hopefuls seeking a nomination from local councils, alongside businessman Gavin Duffy and Patrick Feeney.

In her 33-minute pitch to Waterford County Council, Ms Freeman, a high-profile mental health campaigner and Independent senator, spoke about her role as founder of suicide charity Pieta House.

“I have a vision for presidency that I believe nobody else can deliver over the next seven years,” she said.

Ms Freeman during the presentation (Niall Carson/PA)

“That vision is to build a nation that fosters the wellbeing of people.”

Ms Freeman acknowledged that while the role of presidency is above policy making, it was “not above principle”.

She said that if elected she will convene a National Assembly on the wellbeing of Ireland and that her campaign will be based on securing a Republic of wellbeing, initiative and justice.

She also stated that a president should be able to speak about public controversies including the CervicalCheck scandal and homelessness.

“We are a nation of initiatives and we are a nation of doers and have moved mountains in the past,” she said.

“This initiative will focus its energies on some of the most difficult and serious social issues of our time.”

Mrs Freeman said she wants to make Ireland a better place for the vulnerable and would be a president who will “courageously speak out”.

Ms Freeman outlined her plans for the office (Niall Carson/PA)

She also pledged to establish a civic society initiative focused on volunteering, saying: “This initiative will provide recognition and respect to the fundamental goodness of volunteering.

“I have witnesses it through Pieta and Darkness into Light over the past decade.

“I believe in the capacity that exists amongst the Irish people to champion what is close to their hearts.

“I am the person that is best placed to build and expand on this over the coming years.”

Ms Freeman was also questioned about her position on the recent abortion referendum and said she would be happy to carry the decision of the people of Ireland and sign the Yes result into law.

She told councillors that while her niece, Maria Steen was a high-profile advocate for the No side, her daughter was involved in the Yes campaign.

She spoke about people “failed” by the State and the Catholic Church as well as women impacted by the CervicalCheck scandal.

“My vision is to champion justice for people who have been neglected,” she said.

She went on to say that as President of Ireland she would speak out when something is “fundamentally wrong” with Irish society.

In a reference to social media giant Facebook and recent controversies over its content, she said that while a president cannot tell the Government what to do, the person in the role can speak out.

“Irish people are disgusted by these scandals,” she added.

She was also asked a question in Irish, but said she was not able to answer as she was not fluent. She added that she was passionate about the language and has taken lessons.

Another presidential hopeful Patrick Feeney, a former Aer Lingus worker from Galway, said he wants to break the “status quo”.

Candidate Patrick Feeney pitches for nominations (Niall Carson/PA)

During his pitch to the councillors, he called for a Kate Bush concert to be held in a number of locations around Ireland, as well as advocating for health and housing in Galway.

The presentation became heated when councillor John Cummins challenged Mr Feeney on comments he allegedly made about women in business.

Mr Cummins suggested Mr Feeney had been “disrespectful to women” when he described women in business “like women in sport, coming at a canter”.

However Mr Feeney rejected his comments.

Mr Cummins also accused him of disrespecting the council by coming unprepared for his presentation.

- Press Association

Update 9:08pm: Presidential election: Joan Freeman vows to sign abortion legislation into law, despite voting No

Senator Joan Freeman says she would sign the law to allow abortions to happen if elected President, despite being a No voter.

A number of presidential hopefuls have made their case to Waterford Council in the hopes of a nomination.

Senator Freeman, businessman Gavin Duffy and former Aer Lingus worker Patrick Feeney appealed to the council for its support.

Joan Freeman was asked if her views on the 8th Amendment would affect her signing the legislation into law.

Joan Freeman.

"I absolutely would carry the voice of the people of the 8th Amendment," she said.

"I voted No but I didn't vote No for religious reasons. I voted No because I've spent all my adult life trying to preserve life.

"But I absolutely respect the vote. I respect that it is a Yes vote and would be happy as President to sign that into legislation."

Update 7:57pm: Gavin Duffy puts youth unemployment at heart of his bid for presidency

Ireland’s presidential hopeful and businessman Gavin Duffy has revealed he will highlight youth unemployment and will step away from his business if he is elected as the next president.

The Dragons’ Den entrepreneur was making his first presentation, and first political speech, to councillors at Waterford City County Council on Tuesday.

Speaking for an hour and 20 minutes, the successful businessman made a number of pledges and commended current President Michael D Higgins for his role as President since 2011.

The father-of-four said that, if he is elected, he will highlight youth unemployment.

Aras an Uachtarain, home of the Irish President in Phoenix Park, Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

“Waterford is one of the blackspots as regards to youth unemployment in the country and we need to address that,” he said.

He was also asked about his involvement in blood sports and hunting organisations.

Mr Duffy said he has been up front about his role as former chairman of the Hunting Association of Ireland.

“About 10 years ago when there was a move to ban the Ward Union Hunt I stepped in,” he said.

Irish President Michael D Higgins (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I didn’t hunt with them, I had no connection, I was not a member, but they are keepers of the original, indigenous red deer in Ireland and I was asking the minister at the time, what are we going to do with this heritage herd of Irish red deer.

“But because I took that stand, now this is something that happens when you join politics, you cross the line and the Twitter machine starts.”

Mr Duffy said that he stands over his attempts to preserve the indigenous red deer.

The former Dragons’ Den judge, who is seeking the backing of four local councils before he can enter his name on the ballot paper, praised current Mr Higgins for his “excellent facilitation” of the 1916 centenary celebrations two years ago.

“I have to put on record that I have no difficulty with Michael D Higgins in going forward again, what I do believe that if he is successful he can return to the Aras with a mandate,” he added.

The businessman, who compared the councillors to the Dragons while he was making the pitch, said that he would set up an international youth core that would allow young people to get involved in charitable work abroad.

He said that young people would have to raise funds in their local community to cover the costs which, Mr Duffy said, would extend young people’s understanding of the world.

He was also asked about his position on a united Ireland and giving people living in Northern Ireland the right to vote in the presidential election.

Mr Duffy said that he was unsure if a president has the power to campaign for a United Ireland.

He continued: “I am somebody who was brought up in a border county and I am very concerned of what might be happening to the border.

“There has been great progress and that could be lost.”

Members of Waterford Co Council listen to Gavin Duffy (Niall Carson/PA)

He was also asked about his involvement with Nama developer Sean Fitzpatrick and he admitted he had a meeting with Mr Fitzpatrick a number of years ago.

He was asked whether he had provided consultancy or advice to Mr Fitzpatrick and he told the media that he received a phone call to meet with Mr Fitzpatrick.

“I got a phone call asking would I go and meet him, so I did,” he said.

“Anybody who is in the media spotlight I would be advising them to face up to them (the media) and talk to them as he was very big news at the time and he had no interest in that.

“Therefore I don’t know why he would be talking to someone like me and we never, ever met again.

“That was the first and last time I met Sean Fitzpatrick.”

The successful businessman also said he and his wife, Orlaith will be stepping away from their consultancy business if he is a successful candidate.

“This was a monumental decision, it was also a big decision for my wife of 25 years who is also my business partner,” he added.

“Orlaith also has to resign from the business which is one of the things about the presidency.

Gavin Duffy hopes to be Ireland’s next president (Niall Carson/PA)

“To step away from that work has been a big decision and one that I respect her for.”

He also rejected suggestions he was like former businessman and US President Donald Trump.

“I can say as somebody who is seeking an nomination I am not an admirer of him (President Trump).

“I am even less of an admirer as a business person.

“I assure you I will be very different than Trump.”

He continued: “I find it difficult talking about myself and how wonderful I am and how great a president I would make, because my life has been talking about other people and seeing the potential in them and that’s what I want to do as your president.

“I want to connect with everyone across the country, and I want to communicate a better vision of ourselves in Ireland and abroad.”

- Press Association

Update 4:18pm: Presidential election: Joan Freeman proposes national assembly on country's wellbeing

Senator Joan Freeman says if she's elected President she'll set up a National Assembly on the wellbeing of the country.

She's addressing Waterford Council this afternoon aiming to secure its nomination to run for President.

Hopefuls Gavin Duffy and Patrick Feeney will also pitch to the council this afternoon.

Senator Freeman, who's the founder of suicide charity Pieta House, says she hopes to start a conversation about Ireland's wellbeing.

"I know that the role of the president is above policy-making but it's not above the role of principle," she said.

"If the Irish people elect me, in the first six months of presidency I will create a national assembly on the wellbeing of our country with some of the key stakeholders."

Digital Desk

Update 2:26pm: Fianna Fáil TD dismisses letter backing O'Cuiv presidential bid

A Fianna Fáil TD has dismissed a letter in support of his party colleague Eamon O'Cuiv to run for Ireland’s presidency, saying the matter is “closed”.

Opposition communications spokesman Timmy Dooley said his party had made its decision to back current President Michael D Higgins in the forthcoming election.

A letter was circulated to councillors around Ireland on Monday calling for support for Galway West deputy Mr O Cuiv.

Fianna Fáil councillor Ollie Crow said backing Mr O Cuiv would “right the wrong” of the decision taken by party leader Micheal Martin not to stand against Mr Higgins.

Timmy Dooley backed his party’s stance (Niall Carson/PA)

Mr Martin secured the backing of the parliamentary party which can effectively nominate a candidate to contest the presidential election.

Mr Dooley said: “The facts are that the party has taken a decision on this – and the parliamentary party has already decided on that.

“I know O'Cuiv participated in that meeting so as far as I’m concerned the matter is closed.

“The parliamentary party has set out its position, how individual councillors react is really a matter for themselves.

“If Eamon O'Cuiv or anyone else gets on to the ballot, they will do so as any independent candidate.

“I’ll be supporting the party decision which is we won’t be running a party candidate and that we are supporting Michael D Higgins.”

PA

Original story (8.35am): Presidential hopefuls will make first pitches for nomination today

Presidential hopefuls will make their first pitches for a nomination to run for the Arás later today.

Gavin Duffy.

Senator Joan Freeman and businessman Gavin Duffy will make their appeals to Waterford City and County Council.

Candidates hoping to run for President have to secure the backing of four local authorities to get on the ballot paper.

Waterford City and County Council will be the first to declare this afternoon when it holds a special meeting to hear from two candidates.

Joan Freeman.

Independent Senator and founder of Pieta House Joan Freeman will make her address first at around 3.30pm.

After that businessman and TV star Gavin Duffy will enter the Dragon's Den and find himself on the other side of the pitches as he makes his case.

It will be the first time in the campaign that we hear from Joan Freeman. Although she has written to local councils she has avoided media appearances while she tries to seek the nomination.

Michael D Higgins.

Gavin Duffy, on the other hand, has had plenty to say, in both the weekend papers and TV and radio interviews.

He has said Michael D Higgins talks to people's heads, but he wants to be the one to talk to their hearts.

Eamon O'Cuiv.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fail's Eamon O'Cuiv could be set to run for President.

According to reports, Galway councillor Ollie Crowe has backed his party colleague to contest the presidency.

- Digital Desk


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