Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ireland: RTE Five Leaders Debate-Enda Kenny performs strongly (14/2/2011)

Tonight  the Frontline hosted  the five-way debate between the leaders of the main political parties in front of a live studio audience of approximately 140 people. Debating the issues were  Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore, Green Party leader John Gormley and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams. All of the audience members were asked to submit questions, but only six pre-set questions were asked tonight.
The debate focussed on
  • The banks
  • emigration
  • political reform
  • employment
  • health
There was a venomous exchange between Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams on the issue of fraud when Adams criticised  white collar fraud in the Republic. Martin declared that Adams had no right to speak about fraud in the Republic. 
“How dare you talk about fraud among politics and people down here in the Republic with what went in the last number of years in the North”.
This appeared to be a deliberate tactic on Martin's part to win back support from Sinn Fein. This approach worked during the 2007 general election campaign.  Another example of this during the debate was where Martin claimed  that Adams was “a bit of a magician” if he and his party could follow through on its proposals without any cuts. But  Adams responded by stating that  Fianna Fáil plans aren't real: “Paul Daniels couldn’t do it the way Micheál Martin is suggesting”.

On the issue of the banks Adams argued for the separation of sovereign debt from banking debt and attacked the  proposals of the other parties. Gilmore  stated that  Labour had opposed the  banking guarantee. He stated that Sinn  Fein and FG had supported FF and the Greens on the banking guarantee vote. Eamon Gilmore argued that the banks should have been nationalised. This brought the retort from Enda Kenny: “Eamon would have us nationalize all the banks. You’d have about five Anglo’s”.

On jobs Kenny performed quite strongly and outlined a raft  of  FG proposals to reduce burdens on employers. Micheal Martin spoke about developing exports further. Martin criticised local authority rates and attempted to blame FG/Labour councils for high rates. Kenny countered by stating that such councils had in many cases frozen rates. Of course Micheal Martin was incorrect to blame councillors for this. After all government  block grants to local authorities have been slashed. Hence the upward pressure on rates. John Gormley argued for household rates.
There were  clashes on the Health Service. Gilmore and Kenny performed strongly here. Gilmore accepted that FG and Labour's positions on Universal Health Care were quite close. Here Micheal  Martin looked uncomfortable as  he came under attack on the issue of the HSE and the fact that FF has been in government for 14 years. Enda Kenny raised the issue of depression. He stated that 300,000 people suffer from depression in Ireland whilst Gerry Adams raised the issue of suicide. 

On the mortgage crisis and the issue of the family home, Gilmore stated that Labour favoured keeping people in the family home once every effort was made to pay the mortgage. Kenny articulated the  FG approach of increasing  mortgage interest relief to 30% for home buyers who purchased homes at the height of the bubble (2004-2008). This was to be paid for by abolishing mortgage relief  for new homeowners this year. Micheal Martin criticised this proposal. However Enda Kenny stated that FF planned to abolish  mortgage interest relief for new homeowners within 18 months in any case.

An interesting clash occurred between Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore on FGs financial projections. Gilmore charged that there was a  €5 billion hole in the FG proposals. Kenny responded forcibly and effectively  in countering  this claim.

How did the leaders fare? Enda Kenny was a big winner tonight. He was confident and had an excellent grasp of detail. He looked Taoiseach material. Micheal Martin is an excellent debater  and performed quite strongly. However he cannot shake off the charge that he has been in government for the last 14 years.
Eamon Gilmore  debated quite well  and certainly lost  no ground. However Labour is unlikely to receive any great boost in the polls from this. John Gormley appeared squeezed between the other four.
Gerry Adams certainly made no faux pas tonight and debated  quite strongly. What will probably worry Adams and Sinn Fein is the fear that a lot of Sinn  Fein support may leak back to FF in the privacy of the ballot box.

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