Here we go with the last debate, and also another liveblogging experiment. Well, not really, but I will be updating this post as we go along. So, just hit refresh if you’re interested in keeping up.
Edit: Debate is done, my posts below in chronological order.
21.39: No podiums this time, a table instead. Miriam O’Callaghan is our moderator. A very over the top video package of former Taosigh opens the show with what sounds like a bastardised Inception soundtrack booming over it. Very stupid, but that’s RTE.
21.46: Opening statements from all candidates. Martin emphasises his distaste of soundbite politics and says he will promise no easy solutions. Kenny goes with empathizing with the audiences troubles and says that the “disadvantaged” must be protected. He makes a point of saying that nurses must be protected. Gilmore says Labour is the party of fairness and is the best choice to lead the country through the crisis. He brings up the bank bailout absence of his party AGAIN. They’re all very clear, slow and straightforward statements. I suppose Martin was the best, but I put little stock in these things.
21.51: First question to Kenny: Is he being straight with the electorate? Yes, he says (shockingly). He says Fine Gael has spent the last few years analysing the situation to make their five point plan and goes into a bit of detail on that. That seems to be his line for tonight, to bring that five point plan up as often as possible. Good answer.
Gilmore gets the same question. He has a three pillar plan: Jobs, political reform, and fairness. It’s pretty much the same thing Kenny said.
And Martin. He says his plan is “honest, credible and realistic” and has the most detail. He also echoes some of the points of the other. It’s all very straightforward stuff so far from the three, Kenny seemed the best but maybe only because he went first.
21.56: Next up, to Gilmore: What’s his plan for the EU/IMF? He insists for many reasons that the deal must be renegotiated, it’s bad, unfair, etc.
Martin says the deal cannot be unilaterally renegotiated and anyone who says otherwise is being “dishonest”. He says the EU is thinking about changing rates for everyone already. O’Callaghan interrupts him. Twice. What a surprise. I wonder how many times she’ll do that over the rest of the night.
Kenny goes on the attack against Martin, saying he couldn’t tell the truth to the Irish people. He says he’s already been to the EU to talk to them and he did it as a “leader of a major party” not just as a “photoshoot”. Good answer, calm, collected.
22.07: Gilmore goes into more detail about why he wants to renegotiate the deal. Yeah, yeah, heard it all before. Do Fine Gael have a process in place to have a similar renegotiation strategy with Labour? Kenny says, essentially, they don’t and shouldn’t anyway until after the election. They might not have to.
Martin says FG are just “pandering” with their promises. Kenny goes back on the attack straightaway. He really is quite good at this but he is forced to go back to FGs support of the guarantee which is damaging to his argument.
It seems that Martin and Kenny are being allowed to talk away without Gilmore being involved. Not good from O’Callaghan.
Gilmore, when he gets the chance, goes back on the attack against FFs deal and the manner in which it was negotiated. He says burden sharing has to become a reality. Martin goes back to the “we acted on the best advice” argument that FF have stuck to pretty strongly. Kenny goes right back on the attack again, always coming back to that figure that the Irish taxpayer is not liable for. Kenny the best on this question again, Martin being very defensive and argumentative, Gilmore not saying anything of note yet.
22.09: To Kenny: Do we have the money/means to pay our debts? He says we have to wait for stress tests to be completed before he can really answer honestly. Gilmore says no, we don’t, and that’s why the deal must be renegotiated. Martin goes back to interrupting him, an embarrassing exchange and he isn’t doing himself any favours. Neither is O’Callaghan for allowing him.
Kenny of course, is smiling away at that, looking like the sane man in the middle.
22.16: Martin says putting confidence back into the banks is key in order for Ireland to start repaying its commitments. Kenny, when asked how he would pay off the debt, goes into detail about his bank plans, to close AIB and sell it, amalgamate EBS and outside investment. But, he goes back to jobs and their necessity for any plan. Gilmore says restructuring should be the point and that families/householders should be protected. Kenny is mild in his criticism of this. Kenny and Gilmore do seem to have a kind of tag-team mentality here, content to poke gently at each other and save the vitriol for Martin.
Martin says we need to get the banks “back up and running” rather than letting them fail and that further discussions will take place with Europe after stress tests are complete. Kenny is on top form tonight and Martin can’t compete. Kenny is just oozing a sort of “the bigger man” persona whenever Martin talks over him, just waiting for the Fianna Fail man to shut up.
22.20: Gilmore echoes the others by saying that nothing can be done until the end of March anyway. Martin says the banks have to be strengthened. We’ve come to a point where everybody is just repeating themselves on this question and we really should have moved on by now.
22.24: Kenny is asked about his opinion of NAMA. He doesn’t like it and goes into detail as to why. Gilmore agrees. Seriously, the Labour man is not having a scene stealing performance. Martin defends it, brings up the Google deal of last week. Kenny’s go to line for this question is “injection of competence”. O’Callaghan simply cannot get control of these three, they’re talking over each other constantly.
22.34: We’re moving onto cuts and taxes. Kenny reaffirms FGs commitment to no raising of the income tax. He criticises the other parties plans for a property tax. A little boring from the Mayo man there.
Gilmore criticises the other aspects of Fine Gaels tax package, such as the Graduate Tax, as being too much. Gilmore emphasises his parties plan to only tax the richer parts of the population. Best answer from him so far.
Kenny is asked if such plans are a “dealbreaker” between the two parties. He doesn’t really answer the question and starts talking about water charges for some reason. Very odd from him, the first slip.
Martin criticises FGs plans to cut staff in the public sector. “Credible” seems to be his word of the night, saying that Enda isn’t while Fianna Fail is. He says FGs idea of giving local authorities revenue power is a disaster in the making for small businesses. Better from Martin now.
Kenny is struggling a little under a sudden assault from Martin whose going after him big time, criticising his talking points. Kenny under pressure now, trying hard to just ignore Martin’s interruptions. When O’Callaghan finally assets herself, he gets back on track with the five point plan stuff again, but a little shakier now.
22.38: I’d almost forgotten Gilmore was in this debate, but he’s back now. He starts criticising Fine Gael a bit more now, maybe smelling blood in the air, not liking FGs public sector downsizing plans. When he goes back on the attack against Martin, Martin, very correctly, points out that the opposition won’t reverse any of FFs cuts. He says FG will increase VAT next year. Kenny responds calmly, lays out the figures of his public sector cuts. I’ll give Kenny one thing, he’s hasn’t lost his cool all night so far.
22.43: Gilmore says FGs “one in ten” plan is too extreme and isn’t realistic in terms of expecting voluntary redundancies. He says they many “have to sit down after the election and hammer this out”. He hopes anyway.
Martin says FG’s plans won’t make much of a dent in the debt and saying otherwise is dishonest. More talking over each other now, it always seems to be Martin who instigates that. Gilmore says that State agencies should be given the power to reduce their own expenditure. Either way, they all seem to be onboard with these budget cuts, they’re just arguing about how exactly to do it. Hard to see a winner in such circumstances.
22.44: I like how when O’Callaghan says “We’re moving on…” they all ignore her.
22.50: How will they make more jobs? Martin lays out some sectors that Fianna Fail is targeting, says they’ll get 150’000 jobs from them. Kenny asks where all those ideas where when he was in government? Oh, burn.
He goes on and says they’ll cut red tape, stand up to the unions etc, all stuff we’ve heard from him already. Gilmore says stemming the flow of emigration is crucial. He wants to focus on construction, then retail and then goes back to his SIB plans, his go to line of the night. He also emphasises Labours plans for trade with the BRIC block and employment within alternative energy industries. Good answers from Gilmore and Kenny.
22.56: How will they help small businesses? Martin says the funding of the banks is crucial for that and defends Enterprise Ireland. He wants more investment in “digital” industries.
Kenny says Ireland have slipped in their competitiveness rating during FFs tenure. He says they would sell some state assets, much to Martin’s chagrin, who acts like this is a truly awful idea, a “firesale”. Not much of a debate here, with Gilmore being frozen out of the discussion to a large degree.
23.03: We move onto health. Martin must be feeling a tad nervous. Kenny is in his element of course, heavy on the sob stories, telling us that Martin pledged to end waiting lists ten years ago. His plan is the “Dutch” model, and he rejects notions that it is the equivalent of privatizing the health system.
Gilmore is heavy on the “reform” rather than “replace” idea, going into detail about the “phases” that Labour will undertake to make healthcare universal. Good answers from both.
Martin rejects their answers. He quotes studies that say there are “major flaws” with the Dutch model and claims it will cost too much to implement it here. Gilmore goes on the attack, criticising the HSE which Martin had a hand in creating. They were all good answers, hard to pick a winner. It is very easy to criticise the HSE though and Martin’s defence of it is never going to go over well.
23.06: Big argument between the three. No winners here, just angry old men. O’Callaghan is simply a terrible moderator.
23.09: Do the candidates have a key “social justice” policy? Gilmore wants special needs protected. Kenny “shares that” and adds mental illness and suicide sufferers. Martin ends up defending FFs record on special needs rather than getting to answer the question. Not too good from him. When he does get to answer, he says he wants “equality” in the education system.
23.11: Why do the candidate believes they can be a leader? Kenny says he believes he can give the country “direction”. Namedrops the Easter Rising, something I never like. He says he wants Ireland to be “the best country” in which to grow old and to “send the IMF home” by 2016.
Martin says he wants to be a “radical” leader who changes politics and helps build a consensus to help Ireland recover.
Gilmore says he wants to be a leader who can deal with a crisis and one who can insure equality for the country. All good answers, I suppose Gilmore was the best.
And that’s it.
It was an ok debate, but lacked bite really. A lot of same stuff we’ve heard already. Again, I doubt this piece of programming will really gain (or lose) many votes for these candidates.
Kenny kept his cool, got his message out, didn’t mess up. His public performances have come on in leaps and bounds during this campaign, and he is in poll position now.
Martin was argumentative and rude, on the attack when he shouldn’t have been. Not a great night for him, but things really can’t get much worse.
Gilmore was too quiet and anonymous. Since conceding that Fine Gael will be the majority partner in the next Dail, he seems to have lost a bit of his spark. Didn’t really stand out at any point.
Oh, I don’t think anything will ever convince me that Miriam O’Callaghan isn’t way out of her depth on the moderator stage. The woman is just terrible at that job and I would bet all the money in my pockets she will be on Twitter blaming the participants tomorrow. Bad workmen and all that.
Overall, I’d give it to Kenny, with Gilmore and Martin tying for second place. It’s Fine Gael’s election to mess up now. Only a few days for them to do it too.