Thursday’s second televised debate was a humdinger…if we’re talking length. This time joined by President Michael D. Higgins and Sean Gallagher, the six went at it once again, on the heels of a fresh opinion poll that continues to indicate that the incumbent will be re-elected with little fuss. My thoughts per candidate:
Opening statement doubled down on his earlier attacks on the travelling community, for some bizarre reason. Would run again. When asked directly about traveller comments, he decided to praise Ireland as a melting pot with some French-like sentiment about rejecting special status for ethnic groups. Treading water by contrasting the issue with Dublin homelessness, then needlessly attacked Higgins on the issue. Absent for a fair bit after that. Acknowledged the President’s limited ability to impact Ireland tangibly regards homelessness. In favour of water charges. Jumped on the question regards the President’s salary to criticise Higgins. Would think long and hard about dissolving a Dail. Great. Claimed he had brought companies to Ireland from the US. OK. Claims the problems with rural Ireland motivated his candidacy.
Overall, rightfully dragged over the coals for the tenor of his traveller comments, then, as you can tell by the brevity of the above when compared to others, stayed fairly quiet. He’s done nothing, in my eyes, to change the perception that he is simply not Presidential material. 6 of 6.
Opening statement: he speaks Irish, funny how that came up. No barriers to what we can achieve (with the constitution, right Gavin?). One term promise. Reserved criticism of Casey’s traveller comments. Took a while to jump back again, and that was to criticise Higgins’s one term back out, ineffectually. On the idea of being the “posh boy” of the campaign (a bait of a term by Kenny), he sounded well in defending his past actions and calling attention to Higgins signing in of hunt-related law that doesn’t get anywhere near as much focus. Has a tendency to try and praise other candidates too much, sounding patronising in the process. Tied homelessness to the sale of AIB, didn’t really answer the question. In favour of water charges. Thinks the salary is too high. Piled on with the others on expenses. Denied any political leaning. Didn’t say he believes he can win, only “contribute”.
Overall, like before, seems to be a nothing candidate heading towards the exit line well below the speed limit. He seems unable to really stand out, and one of the last contributions indicated he already knows the race is run. 5 of 6.
Senator Joan Freeman
Opening statement dubbed Higgins the “government candidate”, then unexpectedly went on the attack against him. One term promise. Suitably describes the traveller discussion of “feeding the beast” of ethnic hatred. Sounded good on the topic. Went after Higgins and Gallagher strong for ducking debates, and then again for Higgins bogus claim of being an Independent (he really isn’t). On her 8th amendment opposition, she deflected well enough, though I was surprised to learn that she didn’t really campaign (hiding something ahead of the Presidential run?). Took offence at Duffy’s praise as an attempt at ”rescuing” which honestly, while I don’t deny its an issue in these debates, I felt was an exaggeration here. Nodded at supporting charities as a way to help with homelessness. Opposed water charges. Would accept the full salary, but plans to use it to “recognise volunteers”. Denied she had any baggage coming with her (presumably a reference to Iona), and deflected from the Des Walsh loan. Deflected a question on the pointlessness of the election.
Overall, a reserved performance big on deflecting difficult questions. A few decent moment here and there. Rated high more for a lack of problems than anything inspiring. 3 of 6.
Opening statement claims he’ll be a working President, not a ceremonial one, before trying the Presidency to job growth. All while. Speaking. Like. This. Yeesh. One term promise. Brought up his own work with travellers rather well. Sounded good on the topic, and when he directly called Casey a racist. On “tweetgate”, he denied having any entitlement, and suitably criticised Higgins for the change between then and now on the debate issue. Admitted, like Casey, that there is little the President can do about housing. On homelessness, went straight after the President for the hotel issue, but didn’t really answer the question. Didn’t hear the answer on water charges. Deflected the wage question to bring up expenses. Denied he had any current political leaning, then bizarrely turned it onto emigrant voting. Answered strong on his role in north/south economic bodies. Brought up the expense of leafletting as something he has campaigned on.
Overall, actually decent enough once he got going. He was able to get beyond the ridiculousness of his RTE pitch and sound a bit more substantive on things, and didn’t really slip up on anything. A decent’s night work. 2 of 6.
President Michael D. Higgins
Opening statement claims he wants a “real republic”, think that’s an old Labour line. Sounded a lot better here, authoritative and confident, than he has recently. Did he spend Monday prepping for Wednesday? Has some facts and figures on traveller disadvantage to back up his general condemnation of Casey. Dealt with Casey’s first direct attack, in opinions on halting sites, with ease. On missing debates, he failed to give an adequate excuse for his absence at Monday’s hustings (again). On the one term promise in 2011, he states simply that he changed his mind on the basis of public opinion, which is fair, it’s just taken him a long time to enunciate that clearly. On addressing the Oireachtas, he talked about addressing the EU Parliament (without needing government approval), before Ni Riada tried to shout over him. Claimed to have raised the issue of homelessness with the Taoiseach repeatedly. Weaselled out of a question on water charges by claiming he wasn’t entitled to answer as President. Spare me. Would accept any salary the government suggests. On expenses, he criticised Casey for his repeatedly stupid charges – the first real negative action from the President – but then went back to deflecting the request that he publish expenses now. On the Belfast plane trip he claims he was advised for security reasons to do so. Hmm. Got a bit worked up about it, which is strange to see, calling Casey’s claims a “fantasy list”, but was controlled enough. Denied there was any irregularities. Denied his Labour history affected him as President.
Overall, he made an impact in a debate I largely expected him to hang back from. Dealt with Casey very well, and defended his record well, but all while showcasing his excellent ability to waffle and deflect. But of all the candidates, he did what he came to do the very best, and that was to maintain his perception as a good President. 1 of 6.
Liath Ni Riada, MEP
Opening statement: “cosy consensus”. Drink! She wants to be remembered as a President that challenged tradition. Fair enough. One term promise. Brought up the Carrickmines fire as an example of traveller disadvantage. Sounded good on the topic. Criticised Gallagher for avoiding debates and the seven-year absence, not sure it helped her. Took credit for calling an election, then went after Higgins way too strong for Labour’s sins in government. Her constant refrain on addressing the Oireachtas is starting to sound rather tiresome if I’m being honest. For the first time in the campaign she got asked about her opinions on the IRA and Defence Force deaths at their hands. Kenny was rather blunt and over-bearing on the topic, so her measured response about reconciliation and focusing on the peace process sounded good. On homelessness went back to attacking the government (and Higgins), then again to addressing the Oireachtas. Getting boring now. Opposed water charges. Wants half the salary. On accusations of detaching herself from Sinn Fein for the campaign, she simply claimed she wanted to be inclusive. Uh huh. States simply that the election is a required democratic exercise.
Overall, she had to deal with a hostile moderator, but mostly did OK on that score. But on everything else she was lacklustre, harping on Preisdneital powers she seems to not fully understand, and then with the same old criticism of government with nothing offered in return. 4 of 6.
No banana skins for Higgins, and that’s the big thing. If anything he comes out of this debate looking better than he did beforehand. Of the others, Gallagher and Freeman looked good, with the remaining three, especially Casey trailing behind. We all know this contest is all but done and dusted, but I’m still somewhat surprised to see so many obvious races run with more than a week to go.
Coming up tomorrow, an actual response to my Presidential questions.