Presidential debate

All six candidates make their pitches in the final TV debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time

Rachel Flaherty Wed, Oct 24
LIVE: Presidential debate

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  • 19:59

    Good evening everyone. It’s Rachel Flaherty here. The time has almost arrived on one of the last debates of this very exciting (not really) presidential campaign.  The debate will take place on RTÉ One’s Prime Time at 9.45pm and will be hosted David McCullagh.

    We will have all the latest news and insights throughout the night. Comments and thoughts are very welcome. Contact me here or on Twitter on @rachelfl or email

  • 20:02

    Host David McCullagh is ready for action

  • 20:27

    There are six presidential candidates taking part in tonight's debate

    Presidential candidate Seán Gallagher has changed his mind and decided he would take part in the debate.

    Ahead of a televised debate, Mr Gallagher said having listened to comments from supporters “I can confirm that I am taking part in all the remaining debates”.

    Until this point Mr Gallagher had declined to take part in debates which did not include all six candidates.

    Debates with all six candidates previously took place on Saturday with Cormac O hEadhra, RTÉ Radio 1 and on Pat Kenny’s Presidential Election Special on Virgin Media 1 over the last two weeks.

    At the start of the campaign Michael D Higgins decided to take part in three debates, citing presidential duties, and Mr Gallagher decided not to participate in those debates in which Mr Higgins did not take part.

  • 20:29
    The full list of candidates taking part tonight are:
    1. Michael D Higgins
    2. Seán Gallagher
    3. Joan Freeman
    4. Liadh Ní Riada
    5. Peter Casey
    6. Gavin Duffy
  • 20:33

    Candidates arrive

    Sabina Coyne has accompanied Michael D Higgins for moral support to the debate. It was too emotional for their two dogs Bród and Síoda.


  • 20:45
    No time to chat with reporters- saving their voices

    Irish Times' reporter Jack Power is down at the debate.

    Presidential candidates have begun to arrive at RTÉ studios in Montrose ahead of the debate, Peter Casey and President Michael D Higgins did not take questions from reporters. upon arriving.

    Speaking ahead of the debate Independent Senator and candidate Joan Freeman says she is “really looking forward” to the debate.

    “At last we’ll be able to start setting out our stalls.”
    Sinn Féin MEP and candidate Liadh Ní Riada said as she entered RTÉ: “I’m hoping it’s going to be a respectful debate, and we talk about the future of the presidency and the future of this country, so I’m looking forward to having a real positive engagement on all grounds.”

  • 20:47
    Well, Liadh, I have to admit I'm hoping for a lively debate. Remember. any comments or thoughts you'd like to share, email me at
  • 21:03

    Secret strategies

    Seán Gallagher said it was important for all candidates to commit to the debate, “to ensure we get answers to all the questions that have not been addressed by Michael D Higgins,” he said. But added he hoped the public would “get some of these” during the Prime Time debate.
    The last candidate to arrive tonight, Gavin Duffy said he was looking forward to the debate.When asked if he planned to go on the offensive, he said “I think we’ll wait and see.”


  • 21:05
    Who do you think will do the best in the debate tonight?
  • 21:08

    Video: Harry McGee earlier spoke with Joan Freeman on the campaign trail

  • 21:09

    How long do you need to stay up?

    The debate is expected to kick off at 9.45pm and finish at 11.30pm

  • 21:22

    Peter Casey has made one or two controversial remarks over the last week. Will he keep this trend going tonight?

  • 21:27
    All candiates lined up and ready to go for the final debate with all six together. Photograph: Jack Power
    All candiates lined up and ready to go for the final debate with all six together. Photograph: Jack Power
  • 21:30

    15 minutes to go

    Now is the time to go get some tea before it starts. Too late for coffee, stick with the tea. I may be slightly obsessed with tea.

    We're almost ready to go.

  • 21:37

    This issue is likely to be dominant during the debate tonight

    Michael D Higgins and the Government jet: how the story took off

    The government jet is a Learjet 45, which has a seating capacity of nine. It costs an estimated €3,780 per 60 minutes of flying time.

    It has become standard for government Ministers to publish full details of their use of the jet.

    However, it is long-standing Government policy to refuse to share any details of the President’s use of the Government jet, or of the size of the entourage from Áras an Uachtaráin

    He has taken an estimated 50 trips abroad during his presidency. For many of the trips, he and his entourage travelled with commercial airlines, but there is no information available on the total number of times he has used the jet.

    Some information of the President’s use of the jet has emerged as incidental information to news reports over the years. He used the government jet twice during the Euro 16 soccer championship, flying to Paris on June 11th, 2016 to attend the Republic of Ireland versus Sweden game and travelling to Lille on June 26th to attend the game against Italy.

    He used the government jet to fly to London in 2014 for the historic State visit, when he met Queen Elizabeth. The government jet was sent to Italy in February 2013 to bring the President home to allow him scrutinise the rushed legislation that put an end to the promissory notes for bank debt.

    One newspaper report earlier this summer stated the President had used the jet 25 times since the beginning of 2017.

    It is known that he has used it at least four times this year. Besides the Belfast trip in May, he was flown on the Learjet to Athens for a three-day State visit in February. In the same month, he used the jet for a two-day visit to London.

    And in February he also used the jet for a two-day trip to Dingle and to Valentia Island. He flew into Farranfore Airport on February 16th. The jet returned to Dublin and flew to Kerry the following day to collect the presidential party.


    Full story by Harry McGee here



  • 21:46

    I've been reliably informed that many of you across the country have taken to drinking liquid much stronger than tea for this debate

  • 21:49

    The debate begins...



  • 21:50
    Straight to Michael D Higgins about the jet controversy
  • 21:50
    Why did he need to take an aeroplane from Dublin to Belfast?
  • 21:51

    Michael D Higgins: Frankly, I prefer to go by road all of the time.

    He speaks about it was needed for time saving and to make an important event

  • 21:52
    Sean Gallagher says to Higgins that he knows in his heart that it was not a good move.
  • 21:54

    Liadh Ní Riada says it was a disappointment Higgins didn't have more foresight to publish accounts from the beginning of his term

    Peter Casey: It's in the newspapers so it must be true (that Higgins used the jet four times and not two).


  • 21:54
    Peter Casey calls Higgins a liar
  • 21:56

    Higgins says his life is about authenticity.

    He says all times he used the Government   jet can be checked and are available.  

  • 21:57
    "He couldn't lie straight in bed," Peter Casey says about Michael D Higgins earlier in debate
  • 21:57

    Michael D Higgins: Within the island I used the jet twice.

    (He seems unsure about international use)


  • 22:02

    The debate moves away from Michael D Higgins.

    Onto Peter Casey's Traveller remarks

  • 22:02
    Ooooh, Liadh Ní Riada says Casey's remarks remind her of Nigel Farage
  • 22:03

  • 22:04
    Peter Casey says he does not regard Travellers as a different race to him.
  • 22:05
    Peter Casey says he did not make an "attack" but "an observation that was accurate" (re Traveller remarks).
  • 22:05

    Joan Freeman asks Casey to apologise.

    "I've nothing to apologise for Joan," Casey fires back.

  • 22:06
    Joan Freeman says Casey made the remarks so he could trend on social media.
  • 22:06
    Sean Gallagher says he knows Peter Casey to be a very decent guy.
  • 22:07
    Freeman says we've forgotten that we are talking about real people.
  • 22:08
    Peter Casey seems to be getting flustered defending his Traveller remarks.
  • 22:09
    Gallagher says it's dangerous to be making political issues of those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • 22:10

    Reader comment

    "What does he mean “ bang to rights”? Does our Pres not have the right to use Govt jet to fulfill duties? This small mindedness is pathetic and belittles all contenders."

  • 22:11
    Peter Casey says it's "middle Ireland" that needs help.
  • 22:12
    Liadh Ní Riada is being asked about her HPV vaccine comments.
  • 22:12
    She says she supports the vaccine.
  • 22:13
    She says she was naive and shouldn't have expressed concern.
  • 22:14

  • 22:18

    Joan Freeman was not happy about question regarding Pieta House and the figures she quoted regarding suicides.

    She said when she said that Pieta House saved 30,000 lives (in previous comments) was based on the fact that 5,000 people come through the service annually.

  • 22:19


  • 22:22
    David McCullagh asks the others to not talk across Joan Freeman
  • 22:23
    Joan Freeman accuses Sean Gallagher of trying to turn himself as a social entrepreneur.
  • 22:24
    It's been awhile but Michael D Higgins is speaking. He's explaining why he didn't take part in every debate.
  • 22:24
    I am committed to a programme and I will stick to it- Higgins says
  • 22:26
    Gavin Duffy is asked about being a "spin doctor". He says the skills he has are suited to presidential duties.
  • 22:27
    There is a lot of debate about debating...
  • 22:29
    They are still debating about debating ...
  • 22:30
    Yes David, get them to move on please.
  • 22:31
    We have a break. Hopefully, David will put a ban on debating about debating when it returns.
  • 22:32

    Who has impressed you the most and the least so far?

  • 22:33

  • 22:33

  • 22:34

  • 22:35

  • 22:35
    And we're back...
  • 22:37
    Joan Freeman hasn't looked at the manifestos of the others. She wants wellness and wellbeing for the people of Ireland. She wants to build a community that is inclusive and caring.
  • 22:39
    David says he's still not clear how Freeman will do this.
  • 22:40
    Freeman she will encourage, influence and inspire, and visit initiatives that are working.
  • 22:42

    Gavin Duffy says he wants to tackle childhood obesity.

    Duffy is speaking his own weight issues and how he wished someone has advised him when he was younger.

  • 22:47
    Peter Casey says he'll be one of the more exciting and interesting presidents Ireland has seen in some time
  • 22:48
    He's probably right...
  • 22:49
    Here's a Donald Trump question for Peter Casey
  • 22:49
    Casey now says he doesn't follow Twitter, he has people who do that for him.
  • 22:50
    More readers are saying they will be voting for host David McCullagh.
  • 22:51

  • 22:52

  • 22:53

    David asks Gallagher if he likes Michael D Higgins so much why is he trying to take his job?

    Michael D is still remaining silent through all this

  • 22:54
    Gallagher says he has skills and ideas that would make the next seven years different
  • 22:56
    Michael D Higgins: A president can initiate the discussions on how are we going to turn climate change and sustainability into reality?
  • 22:57

  • 22:58
    A president can initiate a discussion on why a deeply inequal society is reproducing itself. - Michael D Higgins
  • 22:59
    Oooh...Michael D Higgins and Liadh Ní Riada are debating directly with each other now. It's feisty. Well, maybe not feisty but more lively
  • 23:00
    Liadh Ní Riada says there wouldn't be a presidential election campaign if it were not for Sinn Féin.
  • 23:03
    Gallagher says Brexit is going to be the significant issue Ireland will face. His skills in economics and business will be important.
  • 23:05
    David McCullagh asks Peter Casey does he pay tax in Ireland? Peter Casey says no, he is a green card holder and does not pay income taxes in Ireladn. He pays 45.5 per cent on his worldwide income in the USA
  • 23:06
    Peter Casey says he'll be handing back his green card soon.
  • 23:06
    Sean Gallagher says he is tax compliant.
  • 23:07
    Gallagher says he pays PAYE and other taxes.
  • 23:08
    Gavin Duffy says he pays the full rate of his PAYE tax and appropriate tax on other dividents
  • 23:08
    Gallagher says to David: "I think you should stop calling us dragons David".
  • 23:12
    Liadh Ní Riada says she gets €60,000 and takes home €46,000. David reminds her the industrial wage €46,000 and her salary pre-tax is €70,000. She says the average industrial wage changes.
  • 23:18

  • 23:19
    Joan Freeman seems upset about being asked if it was good judgment to borrow money from someone who's company was in trouble.
  • 23:20
    She says the loan she got from Des Walsh was from his personal wealth and not his company.
  • 23:21
    The loan was for €130,000
  • 23:23

    Liadh Ní Riada is multi-tasking, tweeting while debating on TV.

  • 23:26
    Michael D Higgins says he has listened to debate on financial allowances to the President and it has inspired him to begin establishing an audit into the figures.
  • 23:27
    Peter Casey says he will publish his campaign expenses tomorrow.
  • 23:28

    Michael D Higgins: The independence of the president does matter.

    The people of Ireland value the presidency.

  • 23:28
    Liadh Ní Riada says she's disappointed with Michael D and he's publishing an audit seven years too late.
  • 23:30
    Joan Freeman isn't happy about the "three dragons" being lined up together.
  • 23:31

    How do you think the debate has gone tonight?

  • 23:34
    Reader comment on the debate

    "A new low! A terrible sight to behold!" From Anne Murray
  • 23:36
    Duffy says if he was asked to dissolve the Dáil by the Taoiseach that   he would grant it in any circumstances.
  • 23:40

  • 23:44
    Reader's comment on debate

    "An embarrassment."

    From Conor Aherne
  • 23:47
    It's all over! Who did you think did the best?
  • 23:55

    Higgins attacked for use of Government jet during presidential debate

    From Harry McGee

    Front-runner President Michael D Higgins came under sustained attack for using his Government jet for a trip to Belfast in the final presidential debate involving all six candidates.

    Mr Higgins, who enjoys an enormous lead in the polls, has been criticised in recent days for changing accounts of why he used the Learjet for the 154km trip to Belfast in May.

    In the presidential debate on RTÉ’s Prime Time on Tuesday night Mr Higgins clashed with other candidates with one, Peter Casey, accusing him of telling “lies” on the issue.

    When asked, Mr Higgins said there were both security and logistical reasons for using the jet, saying he would not have been able to fulfil a lecture engagement in Belfast had he not used it.

    “In relation to the jet, I have used it twice in the last 12 months.” He later clarified that that was twice in Ireland.

    Independent candidate Seán Gallagher said taking a Learjet for a 100-mile trip “sends out the wrong message. You know in your heart it was not a good move.”

  • 23:56
    Reader comment from the debate

    "Micheal D sailed past them."

    From Bernard Lynch from Malahide
  • 00:05

    Reader commenton winner of the debate

    "Sean Gallagher, very direct & factual."

    From Niall Radford


  • 00:15
    Thank you for your company tonight. People's views on who the winner was of the debate have been mixed. The Irish Times will have all the latest news and analysis on the presidential election on as we count down to Friday. Remember to vote! Goodnight all