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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 8, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

    The TV3 Debate

    Harry McGee

    * 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.

    • minxie says:

      OMG it was absolutely brilliant. Well done Vincent Browne — kept it really together — and I’m not going to say any more mean stuff about Eamon Gilmore. They were both absolutely wonderful. Great debate. I’m biased in favour of Micheal Martin and he was outstanding but I have to say Eamon Gilmore was really good and it was a pleasure to watch. For the first time in a long time I am absolutely fired up about Irish politics and I think we are very privileged to have such passionate politicians in our country. Enda should have been there — really missed out. Well done TV3 — very very well done. I have to say the ‘afters’ debate with Ursula Halligan is also going down a treat. Janey politics is brrrrrrrrilliant !!

    • Eoin says:

      terrible debate, mr gilmore’s empty promises and fianna fails petty attempt to try trick the people inot thinking that they are a new party. minister martin has been in that party for a long time and lets not forget who set up the hse, he is ridiculous. same party same politicians,……. its certainly time for change….. i will certainly be voting for fine gael, very smart move not to debate with the other two clowns tonight

    • a nestor says:

      Great debate. Martin excellent Didn[t think he had it in him . Usually a ditherer and a bti of a wasp at times. Gilmore under pressure alot of time – dry mouth -lacked depth on policy
      one on one better less time for waffle and speech making. ~Good TV

    • Tom Marrinan says:

      I can’t believe I was watching the same debate as Harry. I’m a real political anarack but this was just boring, nothing original, nothing new. Overall uninspiring. And what was Vincent Brown there for? Completely predictable questions which I’m sure that had well antisipated. After that, all that was needed in that structure was a chess clock. Enda must be delighted that he didn’t bother to turn up because I can’t see anybody changing their mind on what they heard or saw to-night.

    • sean lane says:

      but it’s a useful exercise in democracy….?????? more media democracy i dont think so it,s about time that our leaders stand up to unelected journalists and the like including people that won,t even bother voting come election time

    • Jack Richards says:

      Harry you need to live in the real world. The country is broke-broken by 13 years of FF government. You can win all the debates you like but that is the reality. Who lost the debate against the IMF+EU? You guessed it Fianna Fail.
      The news that really mattered today was the statement that Anglo could need another 15 billion euro. This will end in default whether people like you wish to admit it or not. The country cannot sustain the mountain of debt piled up by FF. Lets hear it again once. It is FFs responsibility. You can win all the debates you like but our country has been ruined by FF.
      This country needs a Taoiseach who can lead a competent team.
      Some of the best leaders in world history were poor debaters but could assemble competent teams and lead by example. The media is obsessed with charisma. Incidentally Bertie Ahern refused to take part in more than one debate in 2007. I don’t recall any criticism of Ahern by you when he refused. Now of course he won the debate and had charisma. Where did it get us? Will the media ever learn?

    • Peter says:

      I’m glad you noticed that Enda Kenny put manners on Vincent Browne, without even being there. Now that’s the real exercise of power! We don’t need an arrogant media and self-important journalists any more than we need incompetent or arrogant politicians.

    • Caitriona McClean says:

      This is the best political debate I have ever experienced. Real issues were discussed and participants actually listened and responded to each other. At a European level we would not be embarassed by either. I thought Martin had the edge because here was a quiet man motivated and passionate about the country, the economy and the future. Whatever about the past, he was dealing with the present. Gilmore had a more complex agenda that involves a very ambitious plan politically which he places above a recovery economically. He is pulled in two directions which casts doubt over what he would actually do once elected.

    • Finbar says:

      I agree that Enda Kenny’s decision not to participate, and the evasive way his justifications has shifted, have done him great damage. A leader who does not have the guts to take people on, to be civil (eg to Mr Browne) or to stick to his argument is not someone I want representing me in the EU. As Vanity Fair’s recent article shows, our government from top to bottom has been incompetent, and we have been used as patsies by Mrs Merkel and M. Sarkozy. I want someone in there who will thump the table for Ireland. It surprises me to say it, but I am starting to like the idea of Mr Gilmore as Taoiseach.

    • Tom says:

      Cannot believe some of the comments gone before. Gilmore is so hollow its unreal, policy detail too vague and looked uncomfortable having to talk on his feet. 30 yrs in politics, and thats his best! please. As for Martin, he can certainly talk the talk, no flies on him when it comes to debating. However, for all his effort, the guy is a FF lapdog and has shown this over 13 yrs in power. FF want reform now, what a joke. They’ve screwed the country, end of.

    • Jim O'Suulivan says:

      When Martin attempted to accuse Labour of “privatising” health, given the wholesale give away of the service to moneygrubbers that has occurred under his govenrments term of office, I switched off. Brassneck politics is alive and well in Fianna Fail. They have no remorse for what they have done to this country and that came across loud and clear.

    • Donncha Ó hÉallaithe says:

      A good debate, even though I thought Vincent Brown was far too restrained. Both proved themselves very capable leaders of their parties, who gave a good account of themselves. It’s a pity at the end that the contradiction in Labour’s position with regard to “Gilmore for Taoiseach” was not explored: Labour claim that after this election Éamonn Gilmore could be Taoiseach but at the same time they only countenance an alliance which will result in Enda Kenny being elected Taoiseach.

    • John Mc Ateer says:

      Brilliant debate.Wheter people like it or not this gave the people of Ireland a better insight to what exactly our politicians plans are for the future.Both men were impressive but I thought Martin came out on top.Only loser here was Fine Gael and Enda Kenny. Might not affect them now but somehow down the line i can see this coming back to haunt Enda.

    • Gerald Horgan says:

      I see Fine Gael suporters are out in force here to defend their man Enda. I see FIne Fail supporters are out in force to defend their man Martin. Sorry I am diguested by most of the comments here… The country is in the doghouse and people are still playing party politics. This election is a farce (as most Irish elections are) We lead a politican with charisma, drive (an Irish Obama) to lead the country out of the mess it is in and sorry folks there is none on offer in this election

    • Steve K says:

      Tony Blair was a great debater.

    • Gerrard says:

      Am I not only person who was put off by the constant slight smirk on Martins face, he was enjoying this as if he was a student in some meaningless UCC debate. Insincere…

    • Roger King says:

      Given that previous debates have been brutal, this one was okay.
      As usual no real answers to questions which were too broad anyway
      Does not inspire for our future……Martin in denial…….Gilmore unassertive and unconvincing…..Browne out of place in role & Kenny his usual self! But lifted by Ireland’s win against Wales.

    • cormac molloy says:

      very enjoyable debate . Marttin had the edge becuase he appeared very passionate about his beliefs. Gilmore too went up in my estimation. The real loser was enda kenny, the arrogance of this man is shocking in not turning up. The childish excuses, i lost a friend to suicide and almost another and he was simply using suicide for capital gain. If he couldnt face Michael and Eamonn last night, how the hells he gonna be our great saviour when he talks to Ollie and Manuel in Brussels to get us a better deal!

    • Bert Ahern says:

      The debate was long in rant and cant, but definitely short in substnace. The pair of them appear to be two modern Mr.Micawbers – making calculations ‘in case anything turned up’. Both were bereft of ideas on the jobs front and also rolled out the idea of Dail Reform ad nauseam – where was their Road to Damascus which inspired this mantra.

    • Ed says:

      An impressive display from both. I’m surprised people found it “boring”, I thought it was very interesting to see the leaders have their proposed policies under some controlled scrutiny, as opposed to shouting across the Dail, with nothing useful gleaned on the matter. And to be completely honest, i was glad Enda Kenny was not there. i think it allowed for a better disection of eachother, as both leaders were up to the task of debating with eachother on their proposals. Kenny would have resulted in us just watching Micheal Martin score points off him all night, and taken away from the process the debate was trying to achieve. I would prefer either of the two to be negotiating with Europe for me than Kenny, thats for sure. But that does not get away from the fact that FF got us into this mess, and their negotiations over the bailout were poor. I’m still left thinking that no matter who gets in to power next, after the steps FF have taken over the last two years, we will still lose. I suppose the icing on the cake will be that Enda Kenny will preside over this mess. Weak Taoiseach for a wrecked country. I’m off to Canada with my PhD to try find a job! (Vincent Brown intermediated well too I might add. Makes a change from him shouting across a table at someone all the time).

    • Des Deasy says:

      I cannot believe your and some of your commentators’ positive reaction to this debate. I thought it was very
      poor. Gilmore let Martin off the hook early on and repeated it several times.

    • Kevin Stanley says:

      Very disappointing… Not because of the leaders, Fianna Fail, Labour, Enda Kenny, debate or Vincent Browne but with TV3… TV3 has once again discrimminated deaf and hard of hearing people for failing to have the debate subtitled… As a result, I, and the other 50,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in Ireland, missed out. Surely, we, as both Irish citizens and electorates, deserve to be included in the political debates and get into position where we can decide whom to vote for on 25th February…

      Forget Kenny, FF and others, shame on TV3 for pushing the deaf community aside, not for the first time…

    • John Mulligan says:

      I have to confess, I didn’t watch the debate. I abhor the attempts by tv stations to somehow turn national elections into some kind if x-factor competition. What next? Text your vote to 57111, texts cost 1 euro? The media may be wetting themselves at the opportunities that American pop culture bring to politics, but most voters don’t give a shit.
      For my part, I am sick of having my country run into the ground by the Taca merchants, and I just want them gone. Dressing one of them up in a nice suit to play college lit & deb doesn’t whitewash away his past transgressions, and I think most people see it that way.

    • Liz says:

      Same old….. same old….. how much truth was in any of it???? All designed to manipulate us…. We need a radical change…. completely new blood… but who have we?? We have no one that I would call competent..The politicians have the same old mindset that all the state and semi state bodies have…. they need to really believe in our Country and want whats best for it. As far as I can see, they just want the big salaries and pensions.

    • Frank Jameson says:

      I cannot agree with Caitriona. Martin was far from quiet spoken. His main tactic was to throw accusations at Gilmore and then prevent him from replying. This was most obvious on the question of the blanket bank guarantee. Martin’s response was “you would have done the same if you were in our position.” Each time Gilmore tried to reply he was shouted down by Martin saying ” you would have done the same. You would have done the same. You wold have done the same……….”.
      The problem in this case lay with Vincent Browne who was a very poor moderator. For future debates it would be a good idea if each participant was given 45 seconds to speak at the end of which his microphone was cut off.
      On the whole Gilmore came over as quite stiff and formal with no facial expression and little personality while Martin was extremely aggressive and grimaced so much that he appeared to be in pain.
      I saw no evidence to support Caitriona McClean’s assertion that: ” Gilmore had a more complex agenda that involves a very ambitious plan politically which he places above a recovery economically.”
      What did come across was his lack of forcefulness in allowing Martin to interrupt during the time allocated for him (Gilmore) to speak.

    • bart murphy says:

      This debate done nothing for the real issue that are facing the Irish people they done nothing nor will they commit to any thing .The Irish people want answer on health on jobs and most of all how are they going to pay the extra intrest rate on there mortgage and we all know there more to come . This debate done nothing for the Irish people it might just have shown how hollow the labour party are.In conculision I would the say the media won TV3 won but once again the Irish people got nothing bart murphy

    • HelenC says:

      Enda Kenny’s decision not to debate Gilmore and Martin will label him a coward forevermore in my mind. He may be a good manager but leader of a country, I think not. Driving around Dublin we see multiple posters of Gilmore and Martin, hardly any of Kenny. IIf Fine Gael are so sure of their leader how come he is so absent from view. This is the man who thinks Noonan will make a better Finance minister than Bruton. The mind boggles. Are we really going to make this man our Taoiseach? Please no. Electorate wake up, this pantomime is getting more farcical by the minute. FF ;must go but FG are not the people to inherit the power.

    • Liam Conlon says:


    • Paul0690 says:

      Does anyone really care what Martin does or says ? At 15% in polls why is he even getting all the media time he is being given, its not about Martin, he should actually be closing down FF for what they have done. Inda didn’t need to turn up, it would seem the media are more interested in looking after their own interests with these debates, as McWilliams says today in paper (Independent FF paper), debates are not important and most people see through them this time around, pity they didn’t see through them in 2007 with that other eejit…..

    • robespierre says:

      Thought the debate was generally of a high standard but in the clash of ideas Martin’s approach was more impressive. He only has two pairs but is playing like he has a royal flush.

      Some of FF’s ideas like TD substitutes are barmy but Gilmore did not sound convincing and was surprisingly unconvincing when pressed on costs and detail. I think gale is blowing itself out. I detest FF but while the sins of the past need to be acknowledged I think a large part of your time criticizing FF tells us little about what Labour would do in power.

      This played into Martin’s plans. I actually think a three way debate will suit Kenny better than a one on one and starting in Irish will be easy and low key for him. I expect him to get a roasting over the modest suggestion to make Irish only compulsory for 13 years instead of 16.

    • Alan says:

      Plus ça change…
      Sarkozy gained the French presidency by somehow (how did he do it!) managing to persuade a good part of the electorate that he represented a “rupture” in politics…even though he had been in politics for 30 years and had been the previous ministers for justice and the interior (police ministry) in the last governments!
      Let’s not let personal “charisma”, if that’s what you call M Martin’s performance (i call it cheek and arrogance) cloud the issue of policy and legislation. E Gilmore seems to be the best of a bad lot because he at least attempts to put justice and equality back into politics. I say “attempts” because as mainstream politics in general is pulled more and more to the right, formally left wing parties now find themselves defending more centrist positions. Anyway, watching this from France was interesting! Over here politicians would never call each other by their first name!!! Remember: it’s about policies NOT personalities!! Good luck Ireland.

    • Mary Glynn says:

      The debate was appauling, more of the same lies from Martin & Gilmore all hot air. Enda Kenny was absolutely right not to attend, he doesnt have to prove himself to eihter of the above. He is working very hard on the ground and has a great team around him working on policies and doesnt need to have media attention like the other. Well done Enda Kenny

    • Michael says:

      I think the looser was Mr Enda Kenny only because he did not bother to show up , can he not play with the big boys has he not got the town halls ??? soon or later he got to stand up or else I also think the FF will see a bounce in the polls this weekend because of last night debate. It was good the questoions and the rebutals were interesing to hearFF have alot to answer for Anglo for starters but it did not happen last night Mr Gilmore did not land to many hits
      By right they should have been blood on the floor and walls of the studio all Mr Martin’s but there was not rollon the rest of the debates and with any luck Mr Kenny will grace us with his presents !!!

    • Mick says:

      Fair play to Michéal for giving it his all, but I don’t think many people in their right mind can put them back in power after the last sham. Gilmore was great and will get my vote, which I wasn’t going to give. Alas, I’m across the pond, and wasn’t going to come back to vote. Since hearing about the FG intentions on the Irish language, I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t come back. I could not in any mind vote FG. Enda Kenny, the teacher, seems to treat all things like a teacher treats his students. He is wooden and petty. He is lucky to have some good people around him that make him look a tad better, but for the life of me, I’ll never understand how he got to hold the reins. A weak weak man in my book. Afraid to stand up where required, an inability to listen when required, and potentially an inability to act if he got the chance. Go Gilmore!

    • Dave says:

      What does it mean to say that someone “won” the “debate”?

      It means that more people say they were impressed by or persuaded by that person. It bears no realtionship to the “rightness” or reasonableness of their stance. It basically simply means they were good performers….or should that be “actors”. Hitler also was a great persuader. He was still an evil wrong person, and so were his policies. These TV debates should only be taken to be entertainment…as the debaters are simply acting out their respective roles in order to win votes. The only way we should judge what they say, is when their utterences are analysed by a panel of “independent” experts. Frontline had one such economics expert on Monday night, and that went some small way to making it more reliable….but one expert was not sufficient.

      All such future debates should have a panel of such experts. Were candidates in such debates to be aware that their claims would be analysed in such a way there and then -not later – the debaters would be more careful and thus more accurate I think with what they said and claimed. Maybe. Without such a panel of analysts on hand don’t expect to hear the truth.

    • Jerome Gannon says:

      I believe Harry is showing his Fianna Fail colours. Clearly does not rate Enda Kenny.

    • Dee says:

      It makes me laugh how the media and panels on these political programmes awarded MM the winner last evening!!
      Body language, composure, eyecontact!!! Who cares! I only got more frustrated and exhausted listening to MM present himself as the newpenny in town, new leader, political reform needed…. Jesus how short does he think our memory is? Where was all this innovative creativity when his party and their cronies were creaming the country and he stood back and let it happen.
      I don’t remember MM standing out from the crowd in those days making any stance re’ political reform’ This debate made no impact on my decision on polling day. Gilmore was too soft on him esp re his severance pay. Disgraceful FF thinking they know what the people want when they are so out of touch with reality. Endy Kenny was right not to allow this arrogant exhausted polititian to dictate to him and so should the people of Ireland.

    • I must start with the fact that I am an outsider and not able to vote as I am Dutch, resident in Ireland for 15 years.
      I have followed the discussions last night with an open mind and give mr. Martin the thumbs up for being knowledgeable and defend his politics. What mr. Gilmore had to say about the FF having caused all the mess is not right. I do not remember his party shouting from the rooftops in the earlier years that a disaster was looming in the financial market. They did not see it coming in the US, in Greece, Italy, Spain and maybe more countries will be facing the same problems. Dont just blame the messenger, accept the fact that it is the fault of greed of the people and not of the politicians. It is a pity that mr. Kenny did not attend this debate as I would have liked to hear him say his opinion, Just because there is an election looming, all parties want change. They should have had the wisdom and expertise that something was wrong.

    • Ciaran says:

      Caitriona you must be joking, ostrich – head in the sand stuff
      “I thought Martin had the edge because here was a quiet man motivated and passionate about the country, the economy and the future. Whatever about the past, he was dealing with the present.”

      Mr Martin has been in govt for the last 13years and is responsible for the mess this country is in now. He along with his colleagues in FF have straddled this generation and future generations with untold debt, by bailing out bond holders in “private” banks using taxpayers money. What a Guy he is ????

    • JohnM says:

      2 irrelevant wafflers talking earnestly about the arrangement of the deck chairs as the IMF/EU iceberg tears the ship of state apart.
      IT would actually be funny were it not so tragic for all our futures and those of our children and their children. How the like of Martin can even show his face having been part of that cabal/cabinet of reckless, incompetent cretins for the last 14 years defies understanding. John M in Dublin

    • paul m says:

      a thorough waste of airtime.
      why was the next biggest party in the Dail not invited to take up the spare seat? We have a system of dividing votes between remaining candidates when one falters at the line so why if there was a seat available was it not filled? oh i forgot, we’ve got a Dail used to leaving seats free for fear of upsetting the status quo.

      a two way discussion between a party leader who thinks because he’s got a new title he’s suddenly absolved of his former sins and another who lost the opportunity to drive the dagger home because a PR get together told him to play down the angry man routine, does not a general election debate make.

      questions need to be asked why a chairperson could not have made the decision to fill the void in the vacuum of pleasantries between Gilmore and Martin with another voice to break up the monotony.

      if anything is apparent from that debate its that Martin has been hypnotised by his own party spin and that Gilmore needs to take off the kid gloves. Reverse the roles for a moment and ask yourself, if FF were sitting in the position Labour were last night would you think it would have been as pleasant as it was?

    • pete says:

      at the end of the day, this is not about personalities. it’s about policies. yes martin shaded the debate, but FF have had their time, and they lead our economy with the greatest economic boom in the history of the world….striaght down the toilet, with their negligence and failure to govern the country properly. they have to be thrown out of government.
      while gilmore gave some nice soundbites, he failed to respond convincingly about labour’s policies. and i think labour are often found wanting in this respect. as much as i don’t like enda kenny, it is not about personalities. i think with richard bruton and michael noonan, i think they are the best placed party to have a go at sorting this country’s finances. that is why i will be voting for FG. not because of enda kenny, but because i think they might be the party best positioned to sort out our finances and get our economy out of this mess.

    • Michael Burke says:

      Fellow readers ….Miceal Martin is a polished performer and one would be forgiven for thinking that he had no association with the last government ..not so . He is a nice man and likeable and is probably what FF needs to bring their car crash election in for a softer landing . Pickings should be rich for him in the opposition … there will be so much to choose from every day .It will help FF to rehabilitate . Remember , Albert Speer escaped death by claiming that he had no knowledge of the Holocost ..and they believed him ..he became a 60 s celebrity architect ! Now MM is no Speer but the amnesia over collective wrongs should not prevail .

    • martin dorgan says:

      well done Micheal for exposing the true nature of Labour policy patch work .no clue of how the country is governed despite appaearing after all these years of knowing what was going on

    • Gerry Aldridge says:

      I think the first debate was a victory for Enda Kenny. He stood up to the corporate media in TV3 and everybody else who made light of his town hall meeting in Carrick on Shannon. All anybody wanted to talk about was the “heckler” who it turns out is a fake. He appears to be a part of the mock campaign being run by Terry Ghusto http://terryghusto.blogspot.com/ ,

    • Bairbre says:


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