The TV3 Debate
* Update 9.05pm. Micheal Martin has been very strong, surprisingly so. The marginal winner, even though he has nothing to lose. In a way it’s not about winners. It’s about a loser. And the loser tonight has been Enda Kenny. Would Enda Kenny have been able to last the pace here tonight against such impassioned, animated and confident performers?
I just don’t think s.
And here are my thoughts from 8.30pm
There is no Enda Kenny. I have never seen Vincent Browne so subdued, so timid in my life. It’s maybe lacking a little of the razzamatazz and glitz.
But I can say without hesitation that this is the best leaders debate I have seen in Ireland… probably ever. The only one that I can remember coming close (in the Irish context) is the debate between the leaders of the minor parties in 2007 – when Michael McDowell gave Gerry Adams the political version of the sting of a dying wasp.
In the past, the structures of the debate have been so rigid and the expectations so high that the actual debate itself has disappointed. The leaders involved were also not comfortable with the medium, too conscious about not doing anything wrong (sweating as Richard Nixon once famously did, twiddling with a pen, or being caught with a scaredy look in thier eyes) It reached a nadir in 1992 when the debate between John Bruton and Albert Reynolds was a snorefest.
Tonight it’s been terrific stuff. Both Micheál Martin and Eamon Gilmore have gone at it hammer and tongs from the get-go, with each slugging out each round. Vincent’s only role has been to move the debate on to next topic and try to keep balance on time.
Martin has been strong when charging Gilmore with changing his position every few months, for no other motive than populism or doing what focus groups have been telling him. He did very well by casting doubt about Labour’s plan, saying that it was not clear, that it was uncertain, and that Labour kept pushing the pain away further by reducing the amount the debt would need to be reduced; and extending the time-line.
But Gilmore counter-punched effectivley with saying that the Government has been chopping and chaning. “People do not knwo where youare going from one month to the next.”
Gilmore’s had a very good moment when Martin started lampooning the Labour leader’s claim that dealing with the EU-IMF deal would have to be done Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way. Gilmore countered very well by saying he would make no apology for being as strong as he could in representing Ireland’s interests the same as Angela Merkel would do for German or Nicholas Sarkozy would do for France.
There was a great exchange about the guarantee – an issue on which Labour departed from every other sector. Gilmore claimed that it was the worst and most disastrous political decision made in the history of the State. Martin had an interesting response. He said that if Gilmore had been in the room with FF ministers on the night the guarantee was given he would not have countenanced any other option. Otherwise, the country would effectively have collapsed. Both then tussled on the details of the Honohan report and whether or not he gave a 100 per cent blessing to the guarantee.
As I write Gilmore is having a go at Martin for commissioning more reports in health and not doing anything. He’s also selling his universal health care plan. Martin is now attacking Gilmore for having no costs and having a plan that will take forever to implement.
Tempo has not relented from the start. There’s 15 minutes to go. There’s no Enda. Vincent is subdued. It might make no difference electorally. But it’s a useful exercise in democracy.