Election 2016: Leaders prepare for final curtain

Inside Politics: Each party head has a different objective heading into debate crescendo

Tonight sees the crescendo of the limp 2016 general election campaign as Miriam O’Callaghan hosts the four main party leaders for their final broadcast debate.

The effect of these debates on the final outcome is often contested but Ipsos MRBI's Damian Loscher yesterday partly credited Fianna Fáil's rise in the polls to Michéal Martin's showing in the earlier contests.

The latest finding of the Ipsos MRBI poll, published in today's Irish Times, reinforces Mr Loscher's assessment. It finds that Martin and Enda Kenny have equal support to be Taoiseach.

Each leader goes into the debate with a different task but there is no doubt Mr Martin is the campaign's star, who is now at risk of a forceful shoulder charge as he bears down on goal.


After a poor campaign - capped by his weekend "whingers" comments - Mr Kenny needs to haul some undecided voters back towards Fine Gael. To be fair to the Taoiseach, he has posted steady performances in earlier debates but more is required tonight.

Expect more Project Fear warnings about stability versus stagnation and, right on cue, business leaders have voiced similar concerns in a letter to today’s Irish Independent ().

One problem Mr Kenny faces, however, is that the Fianna Fáil genie is out of the bottle and attacking the party too forcefully could deter some swing voters who could still be persuaded back to Fine Gael.

After some catastrophic media outings in the past week, Gerry Adams will seek to shore up the Sinn Féin core and is expected to make a direct appeal to those likely to vote for his party to turn out and do so.

For Joan Burton, it is do or die. Her performances in earlier debates were criticised although her media appearances over the past week have been steady and, at times, exhibited controlled passion.

On the other hand, Labour’s poll figures have been far from steady, with a drop in all major surveys released over the weekend. Another Red C is rumoured to on the way via today’s Sean O’Rourke show.

Who will be the winners and losers tonight? The faces on the four leaders as they leave Montrose will tell all.

The realignment comes ever closer

In the background of all the last minute campaigning is the realisation that Friday could bring the realignment of Irish politics that has long been spoken of.

On the current polls - and yes, we accept the UK general election point - there is no getting away from some sort of Fine Gael - Fianna Fáil arrangement.

Even Joan Burton has belatedly acknowledged it, warning about the consequences of an “right wing” FG-FF coalition.

In The Irish Times, Fintan O'Toole says it has been a long time coming.

But what sort of arrangement is it likely to be? Many in Fianna Fáil privately say that supporting a minority Fine Gael government is the likeliest scenario although there are others, such as Eamon O'Cuiv, who say even that is a "rubbish idea".

The thought is now entertaining - or haunting - many at the top of both parties while they try and maintain focus on maximising their support on Friday.

Fianna Fáil would have to extract a price for voting for Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, and Fine Gael would have to moderate its policies to appease Michéal Martin.

Willie O’Dea has previously said the abolition of Irish Water and water charges would be a red line for Fianna Fáil, and many in the party privately agree. It is hard to see Fine Gael agreeing to that one.

We are getting away ahead of ourselves here but it may not be too long before the subject warrants serious thought and examination.