Election 2016: No major breakthroughs in final leaders’ debate

Taoiseach pressed on affordability of USC pledge; Adams says he is ‘not at sea’ with figures

The final leaders’ debate of the general election campaign saw exchanges on the economy, the health service, housing and political appointments but did not see anyone achieve a major breakthrough.

However, the debate, chaired by broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan, and featuring Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, Fianna Fáil's Michéal Martin and Sinn Féin's Gerry Adams did not feature any major slip ups either.

Mr Kenny was pressed on the affordability of Fine Gael’s manifesto pledge to abolish the Universal Social Charge (USC), and Ms O’Callaghan asked if it would disproportionally benefit higher earners.

The Taoiseach said “every worker would benefit from Fine Gael’s tax plan” and attempted to emphasise the benefits to middle income earners.


Mr Adams claimed Fine Gael was trying to target a certain demographic and maintained Sinn Féin's plans to abolish water charges and property tax would put money back in people's pockets.

Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil's tax package would eliminated the USC for those earning less than €80,000 while Ms Burton said Labour would target its USC cuts on those earning less than €72,000.

On the economy, Mr Adams stressed he is “not at sea” when it comes to economic facts and figures.

Mr Kenny acknowledged not everyone has felt the recovery and said that was why Fine Gael needed a second term in office. Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil will promote decency and fairness in government.

When questioned about the IRA, Mr Adams said he is a fitting person to be Taoiseach, and said he had been elected by the people of Louth and west Belfast.

Mr Kenny and Ms Burton criticised Mr Martin’s record as Minister for Health with Mr Kenny saying: “The leader of Fianna Fáil wants everyone to forget what they did.” Mr Adams said Mr Martin drove “the bus over the cliff, now he wants the keys back”.

Mr Martin said he "delivered far more in terms of what we said we would do, in terms of waiting times and waiting lists". He also said the current government's key plan for Universal Health Insurance (UHI) had been abandoned and criticised the current daily trolley count in hospitals.

He also said Fianna Fáil introduced the minimum wage, but the others criticised him for cutting it during the crash.

On the issue of housing, Mr Martin said the Government had allowed a problem become a crisis, while Ms Burton and Mr Kenny defended their record.

Ms Burton said the Coalition is “ratcheting up the building programme of the local authorities” and said there were “thousands of ghost estates” when the Government took office.

Mr Kenny said the problem was one of supply and said he believed the Central Bank mortgage rules should be eased.

“Supply is the key issue here,” Mr Kenny said, adding the government put “€3 billion on the table for local authority housing.”

“The new rules brought in by the Central Bank are very tough,” he added. “The intention was right but at the wrong time.”

All leaders came under pressure on the issue of political appointments. Mr Kenny was asked about the appointment of Seanad candidate John McNulty to the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Ms Burton was pressed on the appointment of David Begg to the pensions board. Mr Martin meanwhile was pressed on the appointment of Bertie Ahern's former partner Celia Larkin to the board of the National Consumer Agency when he was Minister. Mr Adams was asked about appointments to cross-Border bodies.