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Cork Independent


Dragon roars but Freeman triumphs

Wednesday, 5th September, 2018 4:45pm

Conspiracies, cover-ups and Donald Trump were all on the agenda as a most unusual presidential election ramped up the heat in Cork this week.

Gathered inside City Hall on Monday night, a motley crew of prospective candidates including a farmer, a mental health activist and a burlesque dancer were grilled as they attempted to secure an all-important nomination for next month’s election.

With the 16 September deadline to secure the required four council nominations fast approaching, the Cork meeting saw a smattering of presidential outsiders make their pitches alongside some notable front runners.

It was the beaming, gentle-mannered Senator Joan Freeman who ultimately won over councillors with her commanding speech on creating a “strong environment” for mental health in Ireland.

The founder of suicide awareness organisation Pieta House said she would hold a presidential summit on mental health and champions charities campaigning on the issue, receiving 14 votes on the night, with 11 abstentions.

Senator Freeman beat off competition by the evening’s other main competitor, businessman and Dragons’ Den star Gavin Duffy, who earlier in the day had received the first council nomination from Meath County Council.

Astute and able as he discussed the ‘soft powers’ of the president, Duffy praised incumbent President Michael D Higgins, but said he wanted to offer a “more dynamic, evolving presidency” focusing on youth, age, diversity, respect and growth.

It was arguably Fianna Fáil Cllr Terry Shannon who posed the question of the night, asking Duffy: if he won, how would he cope with having to move into a smaller house?

But if hopefuls came expecting an easy ride, they were disappointed; Duffy was also probed on his links to hunting by Cllr Chris O’Leary, while independent journalist Gemma O’Doherty was asked by Cllr Des Cahill why, given her criticism of the media, State and Gardaí, she wanted to be president at all.

O’Doherty was also questioned over her allusions to possible State involvement in the death of journalist Veronica Guerin. Refusing to go into further detail, she praised Guerin’s work and said her claim had “nothing to do” with her presidential bid.

Councillors on the night also heard from burlesque star Sarah-Louise Mulligan, musician Jimmy Smyth and farmer John Groarke.

Not appearing overly surprised or shocked by the result, Duffy warmly shook the hand of his adversary on the balcony as councillors confirmed their choices. Speaking to the Cork Independent afterwards, Senator Freeman said: “I’m more delighted than anything that it’s Cork. I lived here for five months, and with the support for the Darkness into Light walk here, I feel like I have a special friendship with Cork.

“I really do believe we can turn the spotlight on mental health. Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to have a president who runs on a platform of mental health in a world where it’s ignored by so many?”

Candidates will address Cork County Council this Friday 7 September, and as candidates ramp up their presidential bids in the next two weeks, the race to that not-so-small house in November is far from run.

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