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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.

Christine Bohan

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.

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11 Responses to “Leaders’ debate tonight – the reaction”

  1. # Comment by deirdre whitney Feb 15th, 2011 00:02

    nobody really impressed me, John Gormely maybe which worries me! Who the hell is going to get us out of this mess, certainly not Enda Kenny, put Michael Noonan back in!!! Ireland needs him

  2. # Comment by Damien Hughes, Fairocracy Feb 15th, 2011 02:02

    Not a mention of the actual policy issues which were debated, or the differences between them… both reviews are all about, well, the same kind of mind numbing blah-blah that RTE spews out at 6 & 9. I keep hearing about all these youngsters on my island leading a change in politics, helping push the narrative to issues, but this is nowhere to be seen when I look at those who do actually have an audience. These may aswell be articles on the indo or the star website. Is politics, and more specifically, the politics of 2011 Ireland, just entertainment to you guys? Buzz words, soundbites and dramatisaton – ff/fg would be proud of ye!

  3. # Comment by Veronica Feb 15th, 2011 02:02

    Very poor analysis. Must have been watching something else?

  4. # Comment by Christine Bohan Feb 15th, 2011 09:02

    To be fair, this is an analysis of how the debate went, not an in-depth policy discussion. I do take your points though.

  5. # Comment by EddieL Feb 15th, 2011 11:02

    Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny looked like a couple having a row over who had gone to bed with someone else the night before.
    And this may not be wide of the mark for the main thing I took from last night’s debate is that it looks like we will have a coalition of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael or Fianna Fail support for a Fine Gael minority government in the next dáil and they will have the full backing of the media especially RTE.
    The “change we can believe in” will therefore be still-born and we will have hundreds of billions going to the EU, privatisation or sell-off of public services and tough times ahead. And we will be told that this is the government we voted for.

  6. # Comment by Damien Hughes, Fairocracy Feb 15th, 2011 18:02

    In fairness Christine, there were only 2 posts when I commented, although my overall assessment stands. I notice that both you and Suzy mentioned the lack of female candidates/analysts (I would like to se a quota introduced for 2-3 Dail sessions, then removed when in political culture) so you did indeed broach upon an ‘issue’, just not those contained in the leaders arguments. So if this was analysis on how it went, where is the analysis on the content of the debate on ‘IrishElection.com’?. Surely you could all take a question segment each and work out who’s answers/rhetoric matched what is in their party policy documents? Kathleen Lynch made an excellent observation on #VinB last night about us not having a newspaper which challenges the institutions, like the Guardian does in the UK, after only spending a matter of months looking over Irish blogs, Im beginning to see that this also transfers to the blogosphere too. No wonder the Church, Bankers, Developers and Politicians have gotten away with so much.

  7. # Comment by Christine Bohan Feb 16th, 2011 02:02

    Damien, this thread wasn’t about policy analysis. It was simply a reaction piece on the outcome of the debate – an overview of how each of the leaders performed. I appreciate what you’re trying to say but you’re looking in the wrong place. There’ll be plenty of policy analysis, both here and on other sites, in the coming ten days, but this post explicitly was not about that.

    Agree with you about about the Guardian being pretty decent. Aside from that, your comment about the Catholic church, bankers etc is hilarious in its pomposity and hyperbole, but can I suggest a few blogs you might want to have a look at to get an alternative take on what’s happening in the country: Try Cedar Lounge Revolution, Tea and Toast, Maman Poulet, Political Reform, The Story, Twenty Major, Irish Public Policy or Progressive Economy. Plenty of challenging of institutions going on there if you want to take a look.

  8. # Comment by Damien Hughes, Fairocracy Feb 16th, 2011 07:02

    Christine, I’m not looking for policy analysis within this article, I’m looking for analysis of the debate. Like what was the level of honesty of the leaders’ words during this debate? – do their words match their policy’s? That’s certainly not policy analysis, its debate analysis. As for how they preformed? I was watching the debate, as many other readers possibly were, and my own reading of how they preformed is sufficient for me. I don’t need to know if a particular writer thinks a particular leader got one over another, we get enough of that kind of biased personal opinion everywhere else. Its about as meaningless as the colour of their ties! All I want to see is real dialogue, but with it being so close to the election itself, I’m not so sure that this will take place, and maybe my comments reflect this.

    I appreciate the links, I am aware of most sites. MamaPoulet is a great site, which HAS actually done some policy comparison, The Story is great for what it does (FOI) and Irish Public Policy, Progressive Economy & Political Reform do offer some great insight/opinion on some areas of government/policy/economics which we should all be aware of, but on the whole I would be hard pressed to find a total of a couple of dozen articles, anywhere, which compare what kind of lives we will have, depending on which party we elect, and that is a damning indictment of journalism, and blogging, on this island.

    I can imagine that many victims of the Church and Banks would disagree with your hilarious/hyperbole comment. If more writers sustained their coverage and examination of both these groups of people, and their crimes, maybe there would not be such deference to bringing them to justice, so victims could feel a sense of justice, and maybe we could really make sure such things don’t happen again. A certain culture seems to have developed amongst ‘writers’, the same culture which I alluded to – one that has allowed certain groups of people to act with impunity on this island. And that is what needs to change first, the culture of journalism. Only then will we actually create enough pressure to change our politics, which will then change our society. That is the order which things will need to happen in.

    And there’s nothing pompous in what I say, its pure practical reasoning.

  9. # Comment by Damien Hughes, Fairocracy Feb 22nd, 2011 16:02

    “There’ll be plenty of policy analysis, both here and on other sites, in the coming ten days, but this post explicitly was not about that.”

    The 10 days is almost up, and there is not a single post related to policy comparisons/analysis on this website. There is one policy-related post however, but it is the writers own policy ideas (titled “10 Reforms”), not a comparison of party policys. Most other sites which I have come across are just as immune to policy discussion, its all opinion polls and ‘whos gonna be in the coalition’ type musings. Cart before the horse and all that. Its a real shame the Irish public could not rely on media reporters and bloggers to help them cut through the 1000′s of page of policys on offer from the different partys.

    Dear Irish bloggers, If you would like to do your public service, here are the manifestos>
    http://www.fairocracy.com/2011_irish_general_election_comparing_the_party_policys.html

    Im halfway through collating the other 30+ policy documents related to this election. They will remain online indefinitly, and PDFs/Word Docs are stored on my server, so they will remain available post-election…

  10. # Comment by Veronica Feb 22nd, 2011 19:02

    Damien,

    What the parties seeking election to government propose to do about the banking crisis, the debt crisis and our IMF/EU loans predicament has dominated most of the election, since how the various parties approach these issues will determine success or failure in job creation and economic growth and redemption over the lifetime of the next government. The tax issue exercised peoples’ minds too, but since that debate degenerated into a tit for tat about who was hiding plans for ‘stealth’ taxes and who’s figures were wrong, there wasn’t much point in trying to disentangle the mess – all their projections are a dodgy anyway. Social issues and plans for health and political reform for example, have reared their heads, but haven’t really galvanised the public.

    Right throughout the campaign, there didn’t appear to be all that much interest in debating the issues or the policies across a range of areas that were published by the propsective parties of government. Mostly, I reckon, because in this election the parties have been restricted in the ‘promises’ they could make to the electorate. Yesterday I looked up the 2007 party manifestoes. Comparing them with those published for the 2011 election was a fascinating exercise – it’s like they were written for two different countries!

    By the way, in the comments on the TV3 leaders’ debate ‘review’ post on this site a fairly lively discussion took place on the core issue of the campaign at that point, the EU/IMF bailout and party positions on it. Also, I wrote a piece on reaction within the EU to Irish electoral demands from Labour and FG for its renegotiation, a week or so later. Unfortunately, for most of the campaign I’ve been distracted by other things so simply didn’t have time to write articles on other policy issues in this campaign. Not that I think anyone missed my old tuppenceworth anyway!!

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