Leaders’ debate: health, housing, USC and cronyism major issues

Micheál Martin says Sinn Féin would kill jobs; Burton says Adams has no credibility on health

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams defends a challenge from Joan Burton over a procedure he had done in America during the final General Election debate. Video: RTÉ

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The health service, housing, universal social charge and cronyism were the major issues discussed during the final televised leaders’ debate of the general election moderated by Miriam O’Callaghan on RTÉ Prime Time..

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he accepted people are not feeling the recovery and the sacrifices people have made have been “enormous”.

He said: “Our challenge is to bring that recovery to bring the recovery to home.”

Referring to a gaffe in Castlebar earlier this week, Mr Kenny said he was calling Fianna Fáil councillors ‘whingers’ and was not referring to any member of the public. He said: “I have apologised for any offence caused.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said his party has made mistakes and has learned from them.

He said the party spent too much and reduced the revenue past but no opposition party advocated differently.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said he has never tried to hide his association with the IRA. However he added the IRA is history and is now gone.

Mr Adams denied he was “at sea” with figures and numbers and insisted he was fit to hold the office of taoiseach.

Housing

Mr Martin said Fianna Fáil cannot be blamed for everything and said the homelessness crisis was a damning indictment of the Government’s legacy.

He said it was time for the Coalition to take their head out of the sand because the problem was getting worse by the day.

The Fianna Fáil leader said it was time for rent supplement to be increased.

The Taoiseach said the Central Bank mortgage rules were tough and he hoped a review would introduce an “easement” for young people.

Mr Kenny said the current restrictions and requirements were to be analysed by the review.

However he said the Central Bank was an independent body and he could not interfere in the decision.

Cronyism

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During the debate on cronyism Mr Kenny admitted he appointed John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma).

Mr McNulty was the Fine Gael candidate for the Seanad by-election and was appointed to the board by Minister for Arts Heather Humphreys to ensure his election.

Mr Kenny confirmed during the debate he had made the decision, one he “shouldn’t have made”.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said this was the first time the Taoiseach admitted his role in the process.

Health service

During a debate on health, the Fianna Fáil leader said the party had made outstanding progress during his time in the Department of Health.

Mr Martin said the money was not wasted and claimed the contrast between his time in the Ministry and the last five years has been extraordinary.

Mr Martin said Fine Gael abandoned universal health care and scrapped its promises to abolish prescription charges.

The Sinn Féin leader said his party would invest €3.3 billion in the health system and would give every child with a long term illness a medical card.

Mr Adams said the party would not place a cap on the consultants pay but would ask those earning over €100,000 to pay an extra seven cent on every euro

Mr Kenny said the Fianna Fáil leader has tried to deceive people into believing he was a better Minister for Health than Leo Varadkar. The Taosieach said Mr Varadkar had exposed Mr Martin.

Labour leader Joan Burton said Mr Adams has no credibility on the health service. She said the Sinn Fein leader is so privileged he can jet off to America to avail of private health care there.

Ms Burton: “What cloud cuckoo land do you live on?”

Mr Adams said his friend had paid for the treatment which was not available on the island of Ireland at that time.

The Fianna Fail leader said it is time the political system woke up to the crisis in the health service.

He said Fine Gael was proposing establishing 16 new bodies for health and would cause more chaos than former Minister for Health James Reilly had caused when he was in office.

Universal Social Charge

In a debate on tax, the Taoiseach said every worker would benefit from the abolition of the Universal Social Charge.

Mr Kenny declined to answer whether it was fair that those who earned the most would benefit more from their tax plans.

Ms Burton said the proposals by Sinn Féin would mean nobody earning over €20,000 would see any relief in tax.

Mr Martin said Sinn Féin would kill jobs in this country and would destroy the small and medium enterprises sector in this country.

Presenter Miriam O’Callaghan also questioned Fine Gael and Sinn Féin on the reversal of their positions on USC.

Fine Gael had insisted the tax could not be abolished but has since advocated for the abolition of the USC.

Sinn Féin had proposed to scrap it in 2011 but is now saying it will maintain the levy.

Slab Murphy

The Taoiseach said Mr Adams defends Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy and refuses to back Senator Mairia Cahill.

Tanaiste criticised Mr Adams for labelling Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy a good republican.

Ms Burton said Mr Murphy has been found to have bags of money in a shed and been convicted of tax default.

The Irish Times is following the debate with live blog coverage and rolling updates from our politics team. We also want online readers to let us know who they think has won tonight.

There will be analysis from The Irish Times politics team online including Harry McGee’s five things we learned from the debate and Miriam Lord’s take on the winners and losers will also be available online.

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