For an anorak, it was all your showers raining down at you at once.
The 90 minute debate was an absorbing battle, given an extra dimension because it was triangular.
It took a while for it to get to an involved tempo. When it did, the exchanges were bloody and bruising and it was interesting to see leaders gang up with each other to score a point against the other guy, if they both broadly agreed on a point.
It was Eamon Gilmore’s best debate. He was Mr Consistency. He had the best opening line and wsa never seriously back-footed. He got in a couple of good digs at Micheal Martin on health (and was also able to name a tax that Labour would reverse when challenged by Martin – aspects of the universal social charge).
On a major point of disagreement with Kenny – on Fine Gael’s plans to cut 30,000 from the public service – I though he came out best
He said if you exclude people in the front line, you were not talking about taking out one in ten. You were talking one in five. He told Kenny if he didn’t proceed with compulsory redundancies his figures didn’t add up.
Was he the best of the three? That’s a more difficult question because Micheal Martin mixed mediocrity at the start with some brilliance in the second half. For the altar boy , the level of aggression was surprising. Perhaps a bit too much. He really dominated, scored some points, but there was definitely overkill.
He really hammered Kenny on detail, especially on tax and the €6.5 billion in cuts. His parody of Kenny parroting the same line – 14 years in power, five-point plan, and let’s get working – was devastating. Kenny underlined it moments later by repeating exactly the same lines.
Kenny was not the winner and will not have persuaded any new voters. But he was very good in the first half, came out with some very good lines, looked relaxed and presidential.
His strategy of completely ignoring Martin’s hectoring and probing worked very effectively.
One such line, on Martin:
“He was a central member of the Government which could not tell the truth of the IMF being here. It tok the Governor of Central Bank to tell us in a phone call.”
But Martin was persistent and when he finally got Kenny to engage he really scored some big points.
(I know I’m straying into boxing parlance – I just can’t help it… it was a 15-rounder!)
As the debate wore on Kenny flagged and really struggled when pounded with detail.
It didn’t look great when he didn’t come back when Gilmore and Martin rebutted his claim the ESB and Bord Gais customer networks were not strategic State assets.
There were a couple of new details that came out tonight.
An admission by Martin that the banks will need further capital.
Fine Gael’s plans for NAMA are to allow several private interests to take over the running of it. Included in small print of party manifesto. Kenny argued that NAMA, as it is, is a secret society and this move will bring competence and competition.
Disclosure that a medical journal in Holland has expressed some doubt about the costs and efficacy of the Dutch universal health insurance model, which has provided the template for the Fine Gael plan.
I think Martin set out to expose that both of the opposition parties were not acknowledging the pain that their policies would entail.
In that he succeeded. His persistence nd strong command of detail paid off. But he was too aggressive, too disruptive. That does not go down well with some voters. But he was addressing the FF core and may have persuaded some of them not to stray.
Will it make any difference? Not too much. Kenny has had a great campaign. This has been his biggest setback but I doubt it will affect his party’s inexorable march to power – and a coalition with Labour.
BTW I think Miriam O’Callaghan was great. It was like she had them all on those extendible leashes you see dog owners use. She’d let them at it, give them the impression they were unleashed, but when they strayed too far off the point or when it was time to move on, she yanked them all back into line.