Businessman and Irish presidential candidate Sean Gallagher has criticised the state broadcaster after it scheduled the first presidential debate at a time that clashes with Michael D Higgins’s engagements.
The presidential hopeful said the clash could “easily have been avoided” if RTE had contacted the president’s office to confirm Mr Higgins’s prior commitments.
A debate will take place later this week on RTE Radio’s News At One programme.
It had been arranged for Wednesday but was then moved to Thursday, however Mr Higgins said he could not attend as he was involved in other engagements.
Mr Gallagher is not expected to take part in any debates which Mr Higgins is not participating in.
The former Dragons’ Den star made the comments as he lodged his nomination papers at Custom House in Dublin on Tuesday.
Joined by his wife Trish and their children Bobby and Lucy, Mr Gallagher called for RTE to contact the president’s office ahead of national debates.
“There’s also been much talk in recent days about the schedule of debates so let me say this, this is not about Sean Gallagher and it’s not about Michael D Higgins,” he said.
“It is about three things. It’s about respect for the office of the president, it’s about respect for the incumbent of that office and, importantly, it is about respect for the electorate.
“This situation could easily have been avoided had RTE contacted the office of the president to find out if indeed the president was available on these scheduled dates.
“Even on the public website which is available online, it was clear that the president had pre-scheduled commitments.
“I think now I would encourage RTE to contact the office to find out what dates the president will be available and then schedule the debates accordingly.”
He said it was “important” for all media organisations to contact the office of the president to confirm President Higgins’s available dates.
“What’s important here is the principle of fairness and equality,” he added.
“If we want the office of president to promote inclusiveness and fairness, then the very process by which that election takes place must be based on those very same values.
“Inclusiveness and fairness are at the heart of the election process. It’s what democracy demands. And it is what the electorate deserves.”
Before lodging his presidential nomination papers, he described it as a “very important day” for his family.
He continued: “It’s also a very important day for our family and I hope that in 20 years’ time when Bobby and Lucy look back on today, that it will be an encouragement for them and that if they have a dream, that they also have the courage to step forward in pursuit of that dream.”