The presidential race opened up last night with the decision by Cork City Council to endorse Joan Freeman as their preferred candidate.
Ms Freeman, who was among six candidates to make their pitch to the council, secured the votes of 14 councillors, with 11 absentions.
She is the first woman to secure the backing of a local authority and the second candidate to do so, after businessman Gavin Duffy became the first Dragons’ Den presenter to receive a nomination yesterday with Meath councillors giving him one of the four council votes needed.
Ms Freeman, founder of suicide prevention charity Pieta House, said: “I couldn’t believe it when my name was called out.”
A formal resolution approving the nomination will be placed on the agenda for next Monday’s council meeting.
Ms Freeman will travel to Roscommon County Council tomorrow seeking their votes. She will also seek the backing of Cork County Council.
Presidential rival ‘Dragon’ Sean Gallagher is likely to get his first nomination tomorrow in Roscommon and either challenger could be in the race with the required four council votes as early as next week.
Nonetheless, both ‘Dragons’ look set to trade blows after Mr Duffy yesterday accused Mr Gallagher of being the “quasi- Fianna Fáil candidate” due to the large support from those party councillors in different counties.
Mr Duffy said he had cross-party support after a majority of councillors, mainly from Fine Gael, backed him over Mr Gallagher at Meath County Council.
Despite a decision by the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parliamentary parties to back Michael D Higgins for a second term, party councillors are backing their own preferences.
Mr Duffy criss-crossed the country yesterday, making pitches to councillors in Kerry, Wicklow, and Cork City.
One of Mr Gallagher’s first acts after entering the race yesterday was to attack RTÉ. The live TV debate in 2011, where a false tweet about fundraising for Fianna Fáil was put to him, had “changed the outcome” of that election, he claimed. However, he yesterday denied that he was bitter about losing in 2011.
Both ‘Dragons’ will be looking to next Monday, where several councils will vote on who to support. Other hopefuls are also vying for votes. Another ‘Dragon’, Peter Casey, said that, if elected, he would promote a scheme to sell Irish passports to the diaspora for €300. Neutrality was “outdated” and Ireland should align itself with Nato, he added.
Celebrity impersonator Sarah Louise Mulligan told Leitrim councillors that, if she was elected, she would donate part of the president’s salary to crisis pregnancy agencies.
Meanwhile, journalist Gemma O’Doherty refused to elaborate on her recent claim that the State had murdered reporter Veronica Guerin, comments relatives have called “disgusting”.
Incumbent Michael D Higgins has yet to campaign ahead of the October 26 vote.
Analysis: Pitches too long as candidates fail to wow
You couldn’t compare it to speed dating: The pitches dragged on far too long to maintain any sense of intrigue. You could, at times, compare it to the Theatre of the Absurd, with the line of the night delivered by Cork City Councillor Terry Shannon — how would Gavin Duffy’s family cope with moving into a smaller house?
The ex-Dragon’s answer showed the presidential hopeful can think on his feet: “A lot of people asked me why I was running, a lot of people asked me if I was mad. But no-one asked me if I was downsizing,” he said.
Duffy was among six presidential candidates to set out their stall last night before members of Cork City Council in a bid to secure their backing.
FIrst up, burlesque dancer, Sarah Louise Mulligan. Sarah Louise was a bit like the new first-year pupil at school Open Night, chosen to woo parents of prospective pupils with downright loveliness.
Dressed like the tricolour — green skirt, orange tee, white jacket, she told the chamber she was “very passionate” about a variety of issues.
Such was the variety, that no-one will ever ever accuse Sarah Louise of being a single issue candidate. She’s Pro Life. She loves Donald Trump, because he’s also Pro-Life. She loves him because he speaks his mind.
Even when he speaks his mind in a way that is 100% offensive to womankind. “If I was in a room alone with President Trump, I would feel safe,” she said, opening the door to queries about her judgment.
Sarah Louisewould face a serious quandary fairly early in her presidency, if elected, because hell would have to freeze over before she would sign any law that clashed with her Pro-Life stance.
Gavin Duffy, the seasoned performer, was next. More like the school principal at Open Night, he made all the right noises, he was well-briefed on the Constitution and unflappable in the face of a few tricky questions from councillors. His pitch focused on the ‘soft powers” of the President’s Office, the ones that let Mary Robinson put a candle in the window or that allowed Mary
McAleese build bridges.
It was his ninth appearance before a council in a single day. When Joan Freeman won the vote, he didn’t bat an eyelid. “We expected Cork to go to Joan,” he said when asked if he was disappointed. He remains confident that “at least four councils” will go in his favour.
Joan Freeman pitched after Gavin Duffy and let her track record speak for itself. She is after all the founder of suicide prevention charity Pieta House. She knows how to mobilise people from the ground up, she said. She now has 280 people working for Pieta House in 15 different locations around the country.
She began by saying while it was good to have businessmen and entrepreneurs like Gavin Duffy in the race “I think it’s very important to broaden that spectrum”.
Having to pitch for president was “a bit like having to apply for a job” she said, which of course it is. But she pitched well, well enough to secure the votes of 14 councillors and a shot at securing the presidency, given she’s now quarter way there. Terry Shannon was among the first to congratulate her; “It’s nice to have a female in the race, I think you will bring something to the presidency that mightn’t be there.”
John Groarke, a hirsute Roscommon farmer, told councillors he was in favour of “a Free State Central Bank” and that he would “leave it up to the good people of Cork” to decide on his salary should he get elected.
Journalist Gemma O’Doherty would offer weary journalists sanctuary in Áras an Uachtaran, as well as whistleblowers, even though she has no time at all for the press, she has no time either for An Garda Síochána, the judiciary or the health service because they are all irredeemably corrupt.
In fact she is so disillusioned with the country in general that Fine Gael Cllr Des Cahill wondered why she wanted to be president at all because “Why would the people want a president who ridicules everyone else?