Would-be presidential candidate Kevin Sharkey has said he was called the N-word just six weeks ago and made a plea to be nominated as “Ireland’s first black president” to send out a message to racists.
Mr Sharkey, an artist and activist, was one of five people to address Kilkenny County Council yesterday in search of a place on the ballot paper for the presidential election.
Dragons’ Den judge Gavin Duffy, senator and Pieta House founder Joan Freeman, and musician Jimmy Smyth also addressed the councillors.
There was also a pitch from Seamus Nolan, representing the William Delaney 1957-1970 campaign, to highlight the case of a young boy who died in state care, three years after his incarceration at the age of nine for stealing a loaf of bread.
Kilkenny County Council will hold another meeting on Monday, September 10, to hear from other candidates, including Sarah Louise Mulligan, Gemma O’Doherty, and another ‘Dragon’, Peter Casey. A third ‘Dragon’, Sean Gallagher, was not one of the names put before councillors as seeking their nomination.
During his pitch, Mr Sharkey referred to his work highlighting institutional abuse, following his sexual abuse ordeal as a child, and said he “was the first man in Ireland” to call for the legalisation of civil partnerships for gay people, 12 years ago.
I still believe that, to this day, I played a large part in opening up this conversation,” he said.
He gets asked a lot about racism, he said, describing it as “one of the most awful things you could experience” and said: “I got called a n****r” six weeks ago, where I live.
To nominate a black president in Ireland, by the people, I can think of no better message to send, not only to the racists, but the people coming here looking for a better life.
Ms Freeman said she has been campaigning on mental health from the age of 17.
“I’m standing here because I want to lead this country into a better way of life,” she said, adding that mental health and issues surrounding growing old are among her key concerns.
“Our country can lead among the global partners and be the experts in health and wellbeing,” she said.
Ms Freeman wants to hold a presidential forum on the issue and champion all organisations who deal with elderly people and mental health.
Mr Duffy said he wants to “harness” the type of “soft power” enjoyed by Irish presidents, exemplified by Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese in their work with the disenfranchised and in the North but which is not specifically written into the Constitution.
All my life I have helped people to develop and express their talents,” he said, referring to his work with businesspeople, politicians, young people, and the “new Irish” who have come here from other countries.
“Like me, they have all had one thing in common: The dream to make a difference. With that experience, I believe I am ideally suited to harness the presidency’s soft power for the benefit of our people, but within the Constitutional framework.”
Referring to his association with the Ward Union Hunt in north Co Dublin, Mr Duffy said he was never a member, but “defended” the group because of his concern for the native Irish red deer herd.
On his fellow “Dragons” in the nominations race, Mr Duffy said: “I can understand the public being bemused, but I’m the one who turned up here today. I’m serious about this.”