The presidential election will be held on Friday against a background of criticism of incumbent Michael D. Higgins’ expenditure of public money.

Prior to a televised debate among the six candidates on Tuesday night, the main issue was Higgins’ use of the government jet for a flight between Dublin and Belfast.

He used the jet to travel to Belfast to deliver a speech last May when his car also traveled to bring him from the airport in Belfast to Queen’s University.

Higgins claimed he was following advice from his own office because for security reasons he couldn’t be picked up at the border.

He also said he welcomed a statement from the Police Service of Northern Ireland which critics saw as challenging his claim that security concerns meant he had to travel to Belfast by both plane and car.

The PSNI statement said it would “routinely work with visiting heads of state and other key figures visiting Northern Ireland and make full provisions for their safety in line with their requirements.”

Higgins said, “I am very happy with the official PSNI statement ... I agree with it and I am happy to reciprocate to it by again expressing my thanks for their cooperation and courtesy.”

Sinn Fein presidential candidate Liadh Ni Riada demanded Higgins not be let off the hook on his use of public money.

She referenced reports which claimed Higgins had used the government-backed Office of Public Works to maintain the garden and grounds of his private home in Galway, as well as his use of the jet and Air Corps transport for flights to Belfast and Kerry.

Ni Riada called on Higgins to respond to “very serious questions” over the use of public money during his seven-year term.

However, supporters of Higgins countered that Ni Riada, as an MEP, was in receipt of an unvouched allowance worth €4,416 per month. The General Expenditure Allowance is intended for rent for MEP’s offices and stationery.

Meanwhile, candidate Peter Casey, at the center of criticism over comments about members of the traveling community, stepped into the spotlight again when he posted a bizarre video on Twitter on Sunday evening.  In it, he blasts Higgins for his iconic dogs – Sioda and Brod – not being native Irish breeds.

“Being President of Ireland, you’d think Michael D. would have an Irish Wolfhound, an Irish Setter, an Irish Water Spaniel or a Kerry Beagle,” Casey said.

The latest opinion poll published in The Sunday Business Post put Higgins far ahead of the other five candidates to be returned for a second seven-year term.   

The poll suggests that support for Higgins stands at 68 percent, with

Sean Gallagher on 12 percent, Ni Riada on nine percent, Joan Freeman at six percent, Gavin Duffy at three percent, and Casey on two percent.

The public is also being asked on Friday to vote to remove blasphemy as a criminal offense from the Irish Constitution.

President Michael D Higgins on the presidential campaign with his wife Sabina.