Donegal Election Candidates On Frontline: Confident, Annoyed, Boring, Better, Realist, Idealist

One more time, here we go. After my last post on the Vincent Browne debate got a favorable reaction, I figured I should cover the next one, this time with Pat Kenny on RTEs Frontline.

Unlike Browne, Kenny’s managed to get all six of the candidates in the studio, though for some reason, only party candidates have gotten a place on the stage with the two independents in the front row of the audience. No explanation is given and its a little odd as Kenny seems to relegate the Inds to the role of spectators right off the bat.

Kenny begins with a brief rundown of why the bye-election is so critical, and frankly, does a better job than Vincent Browne did.

The candidates on stage are in different positions then on Browne with McBrearty and Doherty switching places. Coincidence? Hmm…

The candidates all have similar ties which is a bit bizarre now that I think about it. McBrearty slouching a little as we start with Doherty and O’ Domhnaill looking the neatest, hands clasped in front of them.

Senator Brian O’ Domhnaill (Fianna Fail) is up first. Kenny asks if its difficult being in FF after they messed up the economy and if campaigning for them is a thankless task? O’ Domhnaill says it’s an honor to run, and makes the connection between the result of the by-election and national stability. He also begins his night long emphasis on the warm reception he has been getting on the doorsteps. Not as defensive sounding this time out. Kenny presses the issue about failed promises from FF over 13 years. O’ Domhnaill responds matter-of-factly that FF have done some good in the Donegal area with apparent improvements in special needs education.

Kenny asks about his accusation against Doherty, that SFs plan for the economy would threaten pensions. O’ Domhnaill goes for it and lays into the six year plan of SF as impracticable. He lays out figures claims a third of social welfare will be lost. Definitely putting up a better show at this stage, seems more knowledgable then he did last week.

Pearse Doherty (Sinn Fein) responds: Nonsense, and starts on wealth tax, reducing public representatives pay and the funding of hospitals. At this point Kenny asks about SF in Northern Ireland assembly cutting things. Doherty counters back, claiming they don’t have that power to effect the Northern budget, Kenny, very visibly annoyed, disagrees.

The two get into this a bit at this stage and it’s not very relevant which isn’t good for Doherty. Kenny asks if London is in charge of Northern finance? Doherty argues that, essentially, they are. Doherty very clearly lost his cool here, falling for Kenny’s baiting tactics. He got sidetracked with a lot of talk on the north and that wasn’t good for him. I can only guess that the voters of Donegal want to know what he’ll do about our budget, not Northern Ireland’s. Very defensive, the first time I’ve seen him slip.

Onto Barry O’ Neill (Fine Gael). Kenny asks, very simply, what will you do if elected? O’Neill will put the county back to work. Kenny asks will he vote yes or no on the budget? O’ Neill deflects, claiming that he can’t answer until he sees the thing, which is a reasonable response. He does concede that FG support the “broad parameters” of the budget.

Kenny presses the issue, asking if FG will vote against budget? O’ Neill is clearly not interested in giving a straight answer, no matter how many times Kenny tried to get it out of him. O’ Neill closes off by attacking FFs failures with supporting local businesses. Better stuff from the FG man here, a bit more loud, slightly more confident, though he still suffers from a lack of specific answers to direct questions.

Frank McBrearty’s (Labour) turn. How will he vote on the budget? Instead of answering question, he switches the topic to one of his own, stating bluntly that Donegal will not vote FF. Kenny counters the assertion by bringing up the areas electoral history. McBrearty disagrees talking about FFs failures with unemployment, farms, health services. Very aggressive stuff. Kenny asks if he doesn’t bring up Gilmore a lot. McBrearty answers, very directly, that he does and why does it matter?

Kenny says Gilmore has stated that he won’t reverse cuts if they are made by the current government. McBrearty says if it’s the law, it’s the law. Kenny disagrees which seems to send McBreaty on a tangent about a potential new budget after a general election. He says he’s confident Gilmore will protect vulnerable before closing with a definite “I will be elected”.

Not so loud this time, but little on substance. He tried to dominate the pattern of questioning, and didn’t succeed. Came off as a bit arrogant, might be trying to play into a sort of “renegade” role that his Vincent Browne appearance started. Never addressed the initial question, though his answer was probably obvious.

It’s the independents turn. First, Thomas Pringle. Laid back looking, with no tie. Why did he leave SF, Kenny asks? Because, he answers, “the party system has failed” and SF were too desperate to get into power. His position on the budget? Doesn’t have one, because he wants to see whats in it first, which is a very reasonable response.  Does he agree on the “Broad parameters”? No he does not.

Pringle wants a stimulus package to help Donegal. When asked if independents, due to the probably make up of the Dail, will not be irrelevant in the next Oireachtas he responds by refusing to accept such a scenario but if it happens he’ll deal with it. 

Not to bad, sounds honest, but benefits from not having a party line to stick to. 

Anne Sweeny is up next. Wearing all black, neat and tidy. She gets the same question on independent irrelevance and claims that the future of politics is all independents. Begins her main line, that party politics has failed. She also trips over a personal pet peeve of mine when she equates a business with a country which does not endear me to her.

Says that she will oppose budget because there are too many cuts. She then suggests that we cut 50% of the quangos and gets a smattering of applause, first of the night. Looks like its going well…until Kenny quickly retorts that such an idea is too simplistic and not an accurate appraisal of the quango system. Sweeney starts coughing suddenly and looks nervous. I suspect she might not be used to people talking back at her extreme suggestions.

Not much time for here, and she was very nervous, croaking a little. not used to the spotlight. Seems very much an idealist and not in a good way.

We swing back to O’ Domhnaill and ask: Has FF stronghold in Donegal been undermined? His response is that he is not presumptuous about what the voters of Donegal will do, which might be a not-so-subtle dig at McBrearty. He claims to be getting an “engaging reception” whatever that means. He closes by saying that electing a FF man to the Dail will benefit Donegal as he will be able to work within the current government. Quick, easy, confident.

Onto Doherty who is asked: Are you doomed to backbenching if elected? Doherty counters that the impact of the winner on the budget is important enough. We get our first argument here as O’ Domhnaill cuts in to dispute an unemployment figure claim and that we have to be “realistic” about the economy. Doherty still clearly a little worked up and says that the “rainy day” fund is being wasted on AIB. Doherty gets suddenly passionate, talking about how we should build schools and roads waving his hands around. The audience milks it up and he gets some applause. All sounded good, buts it was very out of nowhere  and I found it a little hokey and stage-managed.

Jesus, while O’ Domhnaill and Doherty are arguing over each other, O’ Neill puts his hand up like it’s a classroom. The guy needs to find some balls.

Kenny is back on the mic: FF hasn’t spent enough money? O’ Domhnaill and Doherty argue the point a bit with nothing conclusive.

O’ Neill is back on and he’s off. Dismayed by bickering, he says FG will lead next government to a single, embarrassing applaud which Doherty clearly finds amusing. O’ Neill is working the hand movements here for the first time. He dismisses FF and SF as non-entities after the next election before playing up FGs ability to manage economy better than FF. Better stuff from him, but marked by some stupid behavior from hand raising to single applauds. Still easily his best bit so far of both debates.

A brief break and we’re back. Some audience comments: Unemployed teacher facing big debts, wants to know what the candidates will do about it. Another guy is annoyed at FF, and in a moment that sums up all that is wrong with Barry O’ Neill’s campaign can’t remember the FG’s guys name. He calls the candidates a disgrace. Another guy asks a “straight question”: What business experience do they have? We go around real quick.

O’ Domhnaill: Farming tradition, business qualification in food management, and he was on economic boards in Gaeltacht. Picked it up as he went along. Not a bad answer, quick to get it all out, I guess he’s been saying this stuff a lot.

Doherty: On the attack straight away. He’s not a businessman and doesn’t care and says that businessman have failed the country. Kenny tries to bait him on his actual job as a civil engineer, but Doherty refuses to bite. Only response he could have given.

O’ Neill: Educator, but family has three generation of business in pubs. “Deep understanding” of business but he’s nervous looking again, and is starting to stutter.

McBrearty: Long standing business background in the family in publican and construction worlds. Straightforward, open, matter-of-fact.

Pringle: Runs a water works. That’s it. That’s all he gets time to say.

Sweeney: Hotel owner, used to own a grocery store, which is now closed over recession and cross border shopping. Seems a little defensive about that, desperate to make sure we know it wasn’t her fault.

We’re back to the audience and the stupidest bit of the show. Some badly tanned guy says all the candidates are “spoofs” and “troglodytes” sounding like an absolute idiot. McBreaty defends their representation, the only one to do so. This audience guy is a total troll, and it might have been better for McBrearty to stay silent. Kenny claims they have a responsibility to the country. McBrearty responds that his first responsibility is to Donegal (he’s right too).

Kenny addresses a last question to everyone, asking for short answers: Why should people vote for you?

O’ Domhnaill: Wants to be in a position to pass budget and to bring stability. Quick, to the point, sounds honest. It’s all he can do.

Doherty: Has a vision of protecting public services and creating jobs. When its pointed out that he won’t have a say in the next government, he responds smartly by pointing out that he alone got a by-election in Donegal which shows what a single person can do. Probably the best answer in the show and it brings him up from his former angry display.

O’ Neill: His track record is good, he has business experience, and makes a short reference to his opposition to cross-border shopping. When asked what he’s actually done, he responds that he represents people on daily basis and on health services in the north-west. A little droning here and seemed to want to bring up stuff that wasn’t relevant to the question.

McBrearty: Will fight for people of Donegal and Ireland. Says Cowen should be more honest about the state of the country and then, unbelievably, says O’ Domhnaill should apologise as a member of Fianna Fail.

O’ Domhnaill tries to respond that he’s young or something but him, McBrearty and Kenny all end up talking over each other. McBrearty tries to say something about expenses, might have been a good point if it was more legible. Kenny’s moving on. McBrearty’s last act is getting into another argument and that’s just not good at all.

Pringle: O’ Domhnaill is a “young man with old ideas”. He will revitalise fishing industry, bring in green power, but is not committing on land based windmills. Quick and rushed.

Sweeney: Says she set up “New Island Party” (Yes, NIP) to oppose party politics. Not really the right answer to the question.

And that’s a wrap. Impressions, overall:

O’ Domhnaill: Not so defensive this time and that’s good, but still caught in the trap of having to face all the criticism from the audience and PK. More confident this time round.

Doherty: Seemed to lose his temper early and that affected him badly. His little speech seemed very stage managed. Not as good as he was in VB, maybe the campaign is getting to him.

O’ Neill: Just a bit better but not much. Still seems boring, unexited. Two embarrassing moments that will cause him to cringe. Doesn’t seem electable.

McBrearty: More polite, most of the time. Stuck to his script, but shouldn’t have fed the troll. Better performance but still a bit full of himself, and unable to articulate specifics.

Pringle: Didn’t get much time. Did what he could with it, seems like a nice enough guy, not a hope in getting elected.

Sweeny: Unused to spotlight, nervous. Quiet and reserved, made her points but balked when Kenny called her on them.

Kenny runs a better debate the Browne, though he pulls off his own fair share of attacks and baiting. Good to get the independents involved though I doubt it will matter much.

By-election is not far off. Right now, if pressed, I’d back O’ Domhnaill, as crazy as that may seem but if anyone else will challenge it has to be Doherty. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see both men as TDs in the next Dail regardless of the upcoming vote.

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