Aras 18: The Primetime Debate

So, for the last time with the full orchestra, its another Presidential debate. My opinions on the candidates:

Peter Casey

Calls Higgins a liar flat out at first. He really doesn’t seem to get how bad it makes him look. On the traveller comments, right back to praising Ireland as a France-esque unitarian republic (it isn’t). Gets very whingy about it. Ended up appearing quite ignorant (more so). Bizarrely decided to start defending RTE on “tweetgate”. His vision for the Presidency is, of course, to connect with the diaspora. Actually has seven women in mind for his Council of State. Tax resident in America. Some late swipes at Higgins, states blatantly that he will be a President for “middle Ireland”. Blatant Trumpism. Would address the Oireachtas ahead of an Oireachtas dissolution decision. His biggest mistake: imbalance between home and work.

Gavin Duffy

Got to speak last, went after Higgins too. It’s a pile-on. Nothing to say about himself, as per usual. Sure does move his arms a lot when he talks. Uncomfortable when looked in the eye by Casey on the traveller issue. Tried to go at Gallagher for dressing up his rental accommodations as social justice, then total volte-face to ask Gallagher about debate absenteeism. Touchy on being described as a “spin-doctor”, buzzword answer. Very nasty on Gallagher. Thinks the Presidency is about delivering on stated themes. Youth Corps and tackling childhood obesity are his specific ideas. Defends his Brexit comments and gets about as passionate as I have seen him talking himself up, but it’s all very bland and unconvincing.  Takes a swipe at Higgins’ criticism of his Youth Corps plan. Tax compliant, then getting ratty with Gallagher on the topic. Wants value for money on the Presidency. Would grant an Oireachtas dissolution in any circumstances. Has learned from his mistakes.

Senator Joan Freeman

Refrained from criticising Higgins first off and criticised those who were (about the topic). Criticised Casey, of course. Unexpected question on suicide prevention statistics, dealt with it well enough. Very quiet in the first half. Touchy on issues of salary and being lumped in with the dragons. Criticised Gallagher on the debates, all rather boring now. Asked about other candidates’ manifestos, says she hasn’t read them. Asked about her own vision, to be honest quite vague on her mental health platform. When it comes back to her, challenges the dragons as a group about their specific ideas. Why bother? Asked again about the Des Walsh loan, looks very tired addressing the issue but she’s never given a good answer on the topic. Foolish jab at Casey, Duffy and Gallagher for being out together by RTE. Would consider refusing an Oireachtas dissolution during Brexit negotiations. Comes off a bit uneducated when asked about referrals of bills to the Supreme Court. Her biggest regret, work-life imbalance.

Sean Gallagher

Calls Higgins’ excuse making on the jet “unacceptable” but maybe overeggs it a bit (especially when describing Higgins as “the leader of the country”). Won’t let it go, looks like a bratty child. Later wilts when asked about his absence from public view for seven years, blaming RTE and “tweetgate”. Uh huh. Just waffles on regards this, turning the conversation to his business largesse. Very defensive on missing the debates, obviously goes after Higgins on the topic, looked very put out when every other candidate started having a go. His vision for the next seven years is based on being different to Higgins. Namedrops Article 45.2 as proof the President can have an impact on policy, then switches to disability rights. Pays tax in Ireland. Dubs Higgins’ expenses issues a “disgrace”. Would consider realistic possibilities regards Oireachtas dissolution. His epitaph: he transformed the Presidency.

President Michael D. Higgins

First question of the night for him and it was, of course, about the Lear Jet. Blames “the office” again. Clearly uncomfortable on the topic, it strikes me that he’s out of practise with being criticised. But as time on the topic went on he got much more confident. By the end, he sounded good, and others sounded increasingly petty. Slammed Duffy hard on the topic. Defended traveller rights. Went nearly 15 minutes without saying anything else after. Didn’t answer on his absence from other debates very well, turned it into a rant on mistruths spoken about him over the last few weeks. Plans to “initiate discussions” during his next seven years. OK. Prickly on Ni Riada’s criticism and delivered the same effective response as before. Same line as before on expenses, regards setting up an audit committee after he gets re-elected. Namedrops a lot of his speaking engagements in the North. Back on expenses as we head towards the end, we’ve heard it all before. Started giving a lecture on Oireachtas dissolutions, but there would be constitutional issues with him giving a straight answer on specific scenarios. His epitaph: something in Irish.

Liath Ni Riada, MEP

Goes after Higgins with her first comments but is relatively subdued about it. Harsh on Casey again for, well, everything. Asked about the vaccine issue for the first time in a while, same line as before, then attempted to blame it all on the HSE. Uh huh. Trying to butt in on others a lot, saying very little of substance. Her vision for the next seven years is to…criticise Higgins for not addressing the Oireachtas. Change the record. Comes off quite patronising when addressing Higgins directly. Very, very touchy on the issue of her wage and Sinn Fein’s average industrial wage nonsense, especially regards some Hot Press interview she gave that I am not aware of. Attacks Higgins again on expenses. Gets a bit rambly towards the end bringing up four different issues in 30 seconds. Would consider all possibilities regards Oireachtas dissolution. Her biggest mistake: um, a United Ireland. What?

It was a night of pile-ons. On Higgins for the Lear Jet. On Gallagher for missing debates. On Casey for the traveller comments.  On Higgins for expenses. The spectacle of five candidates all getting digs in on a single one was unappealing, and all the more so when you consider the apparent state of play. Why did Ni Riada or Duffy spend so much time having swipes at Gallagher when Higgins is 50 points clear? What’s the point? For so much of this debate Higgins stood there silently, seemingly happy to let his opponents continue to needle each other, while he looked above it all. Better than. Presidential.

It wasn’t great. Casey was poor, Duffy wasn’t much better, just a different kind of worse. Freeman looked like she was tired of the whole thing, Gallagher remained mostly composed but still didn’t convince. Ni Riada was very shallow in a lot of what she said and Higgins, as he has done in other debates, did what was necessary and little more. He’s still coasting.

My own decision on who to vote for is something that I will outline on Thursday.

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