#FactCheckIT: We put leaders’ debate claims to the test

Series of claims made during second general election debate, but do they hold water?

Renua leader Lucinda Creighton: She asserted that Ireland had the fourth highest spending on health care in the OECD.

Lucinda Unclear

In November 2015, The Irish Times reported Irish health spending was close to the OECD average, at 8.1 per cent of gross domestic product, but it fell at a faster rate between 2009 and 2013 than in any other country, apart from Greece and Luxembourg.

Health attracts 13 per cent of Irish Government spending, far less than in the US (20 per cent) or Germany (19 per cent).

Last month, a new assessment by the Central Statistics Office assessed Ireland’s spend on health as the second highest in the OECD as a proportion of gross national income (GNI).


An OECD 2015 health statistics document,Focus on health spending, found there been significant changes in annual growth rates in health spending in the years before (2005-2009) and during (2009-2013) the financial crisis in a number of countries. Annual increases had been reversed in Greece (5.4 per cent vs -7.2 per cent) and Ireland (5.3 -per cent vs -4 per cent). The document includes a 2013 bar chart showing health spending for 2013, which appears to show Ireland in a much lower than 4th place.

Verdict: Unclear

Social Democrats nominated leader Stephen Donnelly: He said Ireland had some of the highest childcare costs in the world.

Stevo true

The cost of childcare in Ireland is certainly high by international standards, with parents in Ireland currently pay higher créche costs than their counterparts in all other European countries.

Parents with two children in childcare need to earn up to €30,000 a year to cover the cost of having their children minded while they work. This is out of line with the rest of Europe. While childcare accounts for about 35 per cent of income for Irish parents with two children in care, the average in the rest of the EU is 10-12 per cent.

Sinn Féin’s recently published childcare plans claimed Ireland had the second highest costs in the world.

Verdict: True

Labour leader Joan Burton: She claimed the biggest reduction in unemployment had been in the south-east.

Joan unclear

Earlier this month the Central Statistics Office released a paper breaking down the live register figures in different ways, although the document stresses that the live register is not designed to measure unemployment.

The Quarterly National Household Survey is designed to register unemployment. A table for quarter three of 2015 shows employment rates for people aged 15 years and over classified by region. It shows the unemployment rate for people aged 15 to 74 in the south east dropped from 16.6 per cent to 12.1 per cent since quarter three of 2013.

But the drop for the mid-east region was from 14.3 to 8.1 per cent. When the average across the State is looked at, the drop was from 13 per cent to 9.3 per cent.

Verdict: Unclear

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams: He appeared to claim that, between them, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Fine Gael leader Taoiseach Enda Kenny had "got rid" of 6,500 members of An Garda Síochána.

Audibly stumbling over his figures, Mr Adams suggested Mr Martin had cut 3,000 gardaí and Mr Kenny 3,500. This prompted Mr Martin to quip: “You’ve just disappeared 6,000 guards now, Gerry.”

As of December last year, the force had less than 13,000 members. The pre-recession peak level was 14,600. Recruitment was recommenced in 2014 for the first time since 2009 but Garda numbers are still in decline as retirements and other departures far exceeded the level of recruitment over the past two years.

Verdict: False

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin: He said former Labour minister Ruairí Quinn had pledged not to increased student fees, but the promise was broken.

micheal true

Four days before the last general election in 2011, Mr Quinn signed a Union of Students in Ireland (USI) pledge not to increase the third-level student contribution. The promise was reneged on and the broken pledge has repeatedly come back to haunt the Labour Party.

When the party launched its plan for investment in skills and a “living wage” last week, it emerged that the document committed Labour to reducing the €3,000 student contribution fee by €500.

Asked if she would like to see student fees scrapped, Ms Burton said: “It’s too early to call that now, being honest, because we have an economic recovery to sustain and grow, but we will certainly try to improve the situation for students.”

The party hoped to see the fee capped at €2,500 by the end of 2017, she said.

But she added her oft-repeated disclaimer: “As I’ve said in relation to anything else that we’ve indicated, that’s subject to resources and it’s subject to the economic assumptions that we’ve made, based on the information from the Department of Finance, operating.”

Verdict: True

Fine Gael leader Taoiseach Enda Kenny: He said he would "certainly not" do business with Fianna Fáil leader under any circumstances.

Enda Uncertain

This is probably the hardest assertion to clarify, given that political history is littered with examples of politicians saying one thing before an election and doing another afterwards “in the national interest”.

There is no doubt that eyebrows were raised in Labour on Sunday when Mr Kenny would only go as far as saying he was not “contemplating” a post-election alliance with Fianna Fáil.

It was clear Ms Burton wanted Mr Kenny to definitively rule out an arrangement with Fianna Fáil.

Mr Kenny probably went further than he has before in last night’s debate under questioning from the excellent host Claire Byrne. The exchange went like this:

“So you’re not going to do business with Micheál Martin?

“Certainly not.”

“Under any circumstances?”

“Certainly not.”

“Are you sad about that Micheál?” (Laughter from the audience).

But Byrne’s questioning related only to Mr Martin.

What if, after the election, Fianna Fáil had a different leader?

Verdict: Unclear

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times