Last night’s TG4 debate was the first time we have had a full debate between the main party leaders in Irish.
It was also the first ever three-way debate and, as such, was a historic moment in Irish televisoin.
For political anoraks and Gaeilgeoirí (and I’m both sadly) it rivalled the Arsenal Barcelona champions league game on a rival channel.
All three were very comfortable with their Irish and had clearly polished up their foclóir beforehand.
I was very proud as an Irish speaker to watch and listen to the leaders of the three national parties debating the big issues confronting the country.
All three speak good Irish. Kenny’s is probably the most natural. But all of them spoke very well and were able to maintain an adult and intelligent debate on air for an hour.
At the start, threre were speeches that were learned ‘de ghlan mheabhair’ but they all had to busk for long periods and did it well.
I’m not sure if we will be in a position to see that again.
The language was casual, more casual than you would find in English.
They described each other’s policies as ‘ráiméis’ and ‘amaideach’ – rubbish and idiotic. You would expect slightly more euphemistic phraseolody in English.
Topics ranged from banks to the economy to tourism, agriculture, fisheries, Udarás na Gaeltachta and the Irish language. An unusual but interesting choice of topics, but TG4 was being mindful of the bulk of its own audience.
It was good to see all three leaders on top of their tourism and agricultural policies.
Labour’s Gilmore disclosed that his party is in favour of retaining the PSO for individual airlines. That was the only new line.
Gilmore: His best debate. Found the correct emotional pitch that he struggled to find in the previous debates, between controlled indignation and statesman/more reflective leader. Scored good points on the bank guarantee.
Kenny: Was strong. Effected the air of a Taoiseach in waiting. Reminded people why he had visited Angela Merkel and Jose Manuel Barosso – already in Taoiseach mode.
Also impressed when refusing to make any promises on retaining the PSO.
“The only thing I will make a promise on is the five-point plan”,” he said.
That was strong and will do down well with many of the constituency who are demanding moderation and realism from leaders.
Martin: A naturally skilled debater. Stymied a bit by the strict format from digging into issues. Most assertive of three as you would expect. But Fianna Fail’s stock is so low that even if Micheal delivered a few Obama like speeches it might make no difference.
The format: Eimear Ní Chonaola did a very good job of moderating. TG4 took a decision to be far more pro-active and interventionist than the moderators of the other two debates, Pat Kenny and Vincent Browne. The effect was that at times, at the start particularly, it felt slightly more one-on-one than a three way debate. There wasn’t a huge amount of room for ‘free debate’. A lot of topics and a lot of ground were covered though.
I would have liked a little more ‘free debate’ and interchange between the leaders (with the moderator taking a background role), as it was the first time that the three of them came face to face to critique each other’s banking and fiscal and tax and cutback policies.
I know that focussing on banking and fiscal plans is retreading the same ground but that’s what people are interested in.
Best exchange was on compulsory Irish when both other leaders rounded on Kenny and there was a very lively exchange. Kenny defended the policy on compulsory Irish on the grounds the party will improve standard of teaching and also offer bonus points for those learning Irish.
Both other said it would destroy Irish.
Kenny said Irish was only core subject. Both others said he was wrong. Analysts afterwards said he was wrong. As it happens, he was right.
“Ta an tír scriosta. Ta sé scriosta ag Fianna Fáil. An cinneadh is measadh ná an bailout to Anglo [a tháinig leis an gcinneadh barrántas a thabhairt do na bainc].”
“If we had followed Labour’s advice to the guarantee it would have been ten times worse
“You have to be honest with people. You cannot do that by yourself The other thing is that the biggest thing behind the guarantee was to protect 1.8 million working in Ireland.”
“The €35 billion poured into Anglo Irish money would create 200,000 jobs.”
“The IMF-EU deal needs to be changed on interest rates and the cost of banking. That’s why I spoke to Jose Manuel Barroso and Angela Merkel.”