First presidential debate: How did the candidates do?

All four candidates criticised President Michael D Higgins and Sean Gallagher for not showing up for the campaign's first live television debate6
All four candidates criticised President Michael D Higgins and Sean Gallagher for not showing up for the campaign’s first live television debate Newsdesk Newsdesk

RTÉ host Claire Byrne chaired the first presidential election debate last night with four of the candidates present: Gavin Duffy, Joan Freeman, Liadh Ni Riada and Peter Casey.

Here’s how we rated their performances:

Peter Casey 4/10

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Peter Casey and wife Helen. Photo: Arthur Carron

FOR introducing moments of humour, businessman Peter Casey scores high.

However, in real terms there were moments when his responses seemed more about winning a quick giggle than proving his qualifications for the job.

Some of his ideas were not fully fleshed out, such as his pledge to nominate seven women to the Council of State.

Pressed on who he would nominate, he cited rival candidate Joan Freeman before joking that host Claire Byrne hadn’t been ruled out either.

He appeared to pause too long when asked if he was running in the race in order to promote himself in the US before arguing that the Americans are not so easily impressed.

But it was the question on campaign finance that is likely to have cost the businessman votes.

Mr Casey was quizzed on whether he could afford to write off up to €300,000 that he estimates the campaign will cost if he does not reach the quota to claim back his campaign costs.

“I can. Unfortunately I’ve done it many times in the past,” he said.

Liadh Ni Riada 7/10

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Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada. Photo: Arthur Carron

THE Sinn Fein candidate gave an assured performance with a few speed bumps along the way.

Her pronouncement that she would wear the poppy on Armistice Day – which this year falls on the same day as the inauguration of the next president – for the “greater good” was notable and measured.

It will remain to be seen if it will land with her core base of voters.

She batted away questions about the way in which she could actually challenge the Government with the need for approval on any message she would deliver.

Her cupla focal while she was summing up will have highlighted the absence of Irish from her rivals.

Throughout, her criticism of the other candidates seemed to stray into the personal and her comment to Joan Freeman about the relationship she had with businessman Des Walsh was interpreted as “below the belt”, although she said that she didn’t mean anything by it.

The remark didn’t add much to the debate and it was unlikely to land well with viewers at home.

VIDEO: Liadh Ni Riada on Joan Freeman comments during presidential debate
Video by: Colin O’Riordan
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Joan Freeman 5/10

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Joan Freeman and husband Patrick. Photo: Arthur Carron

HER TV debate outstripped her radio performance but the Independent Senator still has a long way to go.

She was more forceful this time, throwing the gauntlet down on the question of finance and forcing both Mr Casey and Mr Duffy to acknowledge that they could afford to write off the loss of up to €300,000.

However, there were times when she appeared to lose the thread of her arguments.

Her best blow of the night came at the start when she suggested there was an “air of entitlement” to the fact that two of the candidates had opted not to appear on the show.

It was a missed opportunity for the mental health campaigner to address questions about her knowledge of the Constitution when she was asked about her favourite part.

She pointed to a section in the Oath that the president takes when being sworn into office which pledges to look after the welfare of the people.

It would have been a perfect opportunity for her to illustrate that she could pick out articles in the Constitution.

Gavin Duffy 8/10

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Gavin Duffy and wife Orlaith Carmody. Photo: Arthur Carron

GAVIN Duffy’s media appearances of late have not been as polished as his campaign team would like, but he emerged as one of the best performers on the night.

His answers were measured and clearly well-prepped, but unlike others did not sound as though he was sticking rigidly to a script.

On the question of the Constitution, he appeared to have a good working knowledge of it and had obviously thought about his answer on what he liked about it, opting instead to outline the outdated language in the Constitution.

He was also willing to debate with the other candidates, pulling them up at various points.

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