GAVIN Duffy of Dragons’ Den fame is the current front runner to land a crucial presidential nomination from Carlow County Council. At a special meeting of the council last week, where presidential hopefuls made their pitches, Mr Duffy was the only candidate to receive declarations of support from councillors.
However, he and others will have to wait until next month to hear the verdict of the council.
The packed meeting last Wednesday also heard from mental health campaigner senator Joan Freeman, artist Kevin Sharkey and former Aer Lingus worker Patrick Feeney. Athlone woman Marie Goretti Moylan was scheduled to speak but did not turn up on the day.
Mr Duffy was first to speak and said that as president he would advocate for and represent the marginalised. He said he would set up ‘Slua na Uachtaran’, an Irish international youth corps, which would see young people aged between 18 and 26 volunteer in their community and abroad, helping to build schools, orphanages and irrigation projects.
Two county councillors, Fine Gael’s Tommy Kinsella and independent
Charlie Murphy, said they both hoped to send Mr Duffy on his way to a nomination.
The toughest question he faced was from Sinn Feín’s John Cassin, who quizzed him about his links to property developers and why he had not used his platform in the past to speak out on important social issues. Mr Duffy declared that he had no links to property developers. He said he had not been outspoken in the past, as he was private citizen, but he had been acquiring the necessary experience and knowledge to run for president.
Senator Joan Freeman was next up. She is known as the founder and CEO of Pieta House, a charity that supports those who have suicidal ideation or self-harm. Ms Freeman argued that the country needed a new mental health strategy but had no faith in the government to deliver. As president, she wanted to make Ireland a world leader in the field of mental health.
“Compassion is a crowded room; we have to move on from caring,” she said.
Ms Freeman also said she would host a presidential summit on mental health, inviting experts in the field.
Her most pointed question came from cllr Michael Doran, who lauded her work, but said the role of president was bigger than one issue. He asked her what other issues she was campaigning for.
Ms Freeman replied: “I have been accused of being a one-trick pony, but that trick is very, very big … the wellbeing of a country is absolutely crucial, especially if we go through hard times again.”
Kevin Sharkey talked of his ‘Ireland First’ vision. He said he had seen immigration benefit countries, but it had also been a “huge problem” in others.
“London, Birmingham, Luton … I have seen some things that I hope I will never see in Ireland,” he said. “It’s not racism, thinking that your own people should be prioritised.”
He said he believed it was not racist to have a conversation about immigration.
Mr Sharkey also proposed a tourism initiative that every county should have a Famine village. “I think we need to be more Irish, not less.”
Cllr Walter Lacey put it to Mr Sharkey that he resembled Donald Trump. Mr Sharkey said he disagreed with Trump on a lot of things but spoke of him with tones of admiration. “I’d rather have a boss who would get the job done than a nice man.”
Galway man Patrick Feeney closed proceedings memorably.
Mr Feeney’s main policy was “challenging the status quo”. He wanted to get the sugar factory back up and running in Carlow, while he also seemed to infer there was a conspiracy with vulture funds and immigration. However, much of his presentation was a rambling biography with references to his boxing prowess and his legal woes.
Cllr John Cassin put it bluntly to Mr Feeney that he was in the wrong forum and was using the council “as pawns in a game of chess”.
Mr Feeney responded by accusing cllr Cassin of looking at him trying to “delete my brain”.
Councillors are set to vote on the nomination next month, if a presidential order is signed by government. There is still an opportunity for other parties to make written submissions to the council for consideration.