Leaders’ debate tonight – the reaction
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Our panel of bloggers and tweeters – David Cochrane, Cian O’Flaherty, Christine Bohan, Suzy Byrne and Alexia Golez – give their reaction to tonight’s debate between all five leaders:
David Cochrane of politics.ie
It was a much livelier debate overall tonight between the five leaders than it was between just two last week, but the audience interaction left much to be desired. Pat Kenny may as well have just sat by himself and asked the questions. That’s pretty much what he did.
A normal Frontline audience (like its predecessor Questions & Answers) is packed with party hacks and students dragged kicking and screaming from the UCD bar. This audience is different, firstly they’ve been chosen by a polling company as they’re undecideds. So one can expect the audience to not know who they’re voting for. One would hope (and expect) that this audience may actually be polled on the way out for their feedback, because if not, I see no point to them being there, or there being an audience at all.
The format seems worthy of much criticism, it didn’t appear so much a debate as a series of exchanges between the individual leaders and Pat Kenny, it appeared irregular, unplanned and random. Occasionally Pat Kenny swung to a leader who hasn’t had a word in a while, only to quickly interrupt them when they’re not staying on topic.
This was Enda Kenny’s debate to lose, and he managed to not only avoid losing, but coming across as calm and relaxed, and well able to land a few important blows on Micheal Martin, especially on the issue of health. It’s not a television debate without the Harangue award, tonight it goes to Eamon Gilmore, constantly interrupting and speaking over Kenny, not letting him answer, I don’t think it worked to his advantage.
Cian O’Flaherty of irishelection.com
Gerry Adams has clearly picked up that people are policied out. Though they ask for policy, they are also asking for narrative. And our major leaders haven’t been putting together the narrative aspect.
Therefore, Adams did well. He could fall back to core principles, go off script with some confidence (except for his fraud remark) and deliver fare for public cosumption.
The others were in the ha’penny place. For policy, see the turgid technocratic babble (or Fine Gael’s document entitled ‘being the answer to all Enda’s questions’). For hope, see efforts as national ra-ra-ra but always underlining the hard decisions ahead.
In a sense, Adams is free to talk as he does as he won’t be near government in March. In another sense, other politicians are not forced to think their way into that realm as they can fall back on dire economics. Six of one….
Gilmore did well in a debate where lots was expected of him, Martin did excellently at tackling Adams but was less focussed on Kenny and Gilmore. The rare spar between Gilmore and Kenny was what we all tuned in for. Gilmore was good at making his criticisms stick but all of this happened 15 minutes in.
This will depress anyone who pondered turning out to vote, lots of heat. Not a lot of light. And Enda didn’t look anything like a Taoiseach (whatver the papers say) he had his hands in his pockets and wandered the roundabout regularly. He was caught on his growth assumptions, caught on health and generally took 20 minutes to recall his lines. It won’t matter too much though, people are already falling for FG. He didn’t drop the ball and that is plenty fine. Sadly.
The talking point in tomorrows papers, aside from the unexpectedly bad-tempered exchanges between Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams, will be how Enda Kenny confounded expectations. He didn’t make any major mistakes, he was calm, and he kept pivoting back to Fine Gael’s 5-Point-Plan to Get Stuff Back to Normal, which he has credited for their bounce in the polls at the weekend. So does that make it a win for him? No. Or, at least, it shouldn’t do.
This debate was dull dull dull, and Enda was bland and uninspiring. All the leaders were all clearly terrified of making a mistake and for the first ten minutes they simply parroted lines from their manifestos. The format was clunky – despite the Luntzian picking of the audience, the questions were rambling and several were repeated. It was only in the second half when it really picked up – the healthcare question was probably the best part of the entire debate.
Enda was wooden. As much as FG-ers like to pretend he’s improved hugely in the past few months, he hasn’t. He still sounds like he’s reading a script. There was no point in the debate where he sounded like a Taoiseach. Martin was somewhat drowned out with the five-person format, but that didn’t stop him doing his attack dog thing again. Gilmore did well – the other leaders clearly thought so too, judging by the amount of times that they said how they agreed with him. His attacks on FG’s economic policies were substantive and aggressive. One surprise for me was John Gormley. There was something compelling about the way he kept giving advice to the next government, safe in the knowledge that his party won’t be part of it. Another surprise was Gerry Adams. Whatever about the spin in the papers tomorrow, this was a very strong performance.
Overall, it was a frustrating debate. Won’t change much, but FG will probably continue with their inexplicable rise. Also, on a slight aside: it was incredibly depressing to go from five middle-class, middle-aged men at the debate to a panel of five middle-aged, middle-class men analysing the debate on The Eleventh Hour on RTE 2 several minutes later.
Suzy Byrne of Mamanpoulet.com
What to say? 5 men stood at pulpits and threws some fairly lame digs at each other from time to time. Afterwards we had another five men tell us on RTE’s Eleventh Hour that their man won.
Enda Kenny did well to get the five way debate as his first and also to win the raffle for the middle podium. No mention of his trip to Berlin from what I can remember. Michéal needs to drop the puppet show references and I think the others got their chance to remind everyone a bit more that he was in government for the past 14 years, something he’s been ignoring for the past 14 days while he reinvented himself.
There was an awful lot of agreeing with each other tonight which is not much use when one is trying to find out who is different and what will be done differently. The attacks from Micheál Martin on Gerry Adams were repetitive and very telling, the news from the doors must be bad. But Labour should also be very worried by this news if they are not picking up FF votes. Gilmore to be fair (and very few seem to be fair in the past week or so) did try to show a difference between himself and Fine Gael (except for health) but did not spend much time at all attacking Fianna Fáil. Are the electorate’s political memories so short that they are not worth reminding about who got us into the state we are in in the first place?
The other question many people will be asking after tonight is Who is Rip van Winkle and what has he to do with Irish politics?
Alexia Golez of election.ie
Another round of grey debates. I’m not sure if it’s me or if I should have play vintage episodes of Monkey in the background to liven things up. Pushing past the well-rehearsed mechanics…
For me, a lot of the debate circled Gilmore’s withdrawn manner. It was his Little Voice moment. Sure there was the zing at Martin over his political DNA, but Gilmore seemed to hang back for most the debate. That was until he pounced predictably on Fine Gael’s ’5 Billion blackhole’. A brief opening for Martin to sucker-punch with ‘sure they want to go into Government together’. Each blow more predictable than the last.
I hope Angry Gilmore comes the debate next time. Or perhaps he could send Rabbitte who so succintly seems to connect with the latent anger in undecided voters, as they more properly decided who to punish with their vote rather than who to reward. That’s where Adams tried to set his stall out last night.
Most of the mainstream media seems to be lauding Kenny as the winner of the debate, not because he blinded us with brilliance but because of he didn’t fall apart. It doesn’t seem credible. Kenny up close and in person, in small rooms is poised and when he relaxes almost presidential. But it’s not enough in tellyland. It wasn’t enough for me and I don’t believe that it was enough for undecided voters. That’s what the debates are really for, right?
The strange thing about last night was the outliers’ performances. Where Gormley was too concilatary, Adams was positioning himself as Mr. No. Paisley would be proud.
In my opinion, Adams came out the debate with the most momentum last night. But only really, momentum in Louth. His focus on hospital issues in Louth and his dogged repitition of ‘I’m not one of them’ really played to his constituency. Sure he was fuzzy in economics, banking and health. There were logical gaps into which I could park an articulated truck, but it doesn’t really matter. I believe his performance in the debate quite possibly guaranteed him to top his poll or else come close to it.
Kevin Rafter commented on Morning Ireland earlier that the debate should really have just been on the economy and that single issue debates didn’t really give the leaders a chance to probe the issues enough. I have to agree. It was the same last week. The first couple of questions posed by the audience seemed to mop up the most time leaving important issues like political reform as a few minutes of All Filler, No Killer at the end of programme.
I know that hosts of the debate are constrained in all kinds of ways in debate. Time allocated in responses, prior knowledge of topics to parties even the banning of applause and audience sonics, but dear God, next debate I might actually make a start on the second coat of white in the hallway and actually watch paint dry.