Debating the debates as the drama unfolds

I am sure many of you have been looking at and listening to the Leaders Debates on TV. Last week we had the TV3 one among four leaders: An Taoiseach, An Tánaiste, Micheál Martin, and Gerry Adams. Just this week, on Monday night on RTÉ, we had a Leaders Debate among seven.

Before I go any further in this, let me explain fully the way I am. I am a political addict and not a bit afraid to admit it. Imagine what I did Monday night: I looked at the TV debate among seven leaders which went on from 9.30pm to 11.30pm, then looked at the spin room where the pundits had their say on what had gone on before. Then I went to bed.

I knew I had missed the debate on TV3 among the four deputy leaders. On Tuesday morning, I got up at 5.30am to look at the replay of that on TV3. Now how daft am I, or can you get any more addicted than that?

By the way, at 7am when that had finished, I got back into bed and slept for a full two hours before a telephone call woke me up.

Let’s go back to the debate last week among the four leaders that was moderated by Pat Kenny and Colette Fitzpatrick of TV3. My overall impression of that debate was that they were like a group of primary school children, squabbling, fighting, shouting; getting louder and more incoherent as the debate developed. The general agreement seemed to be that Micheál Martin had fared the best of that four.

Pat Kenny has great gravitas and authority but he was helpless in the face of the way the four behaved. It was impossible watching it to garner any relevant information from any one of them. However, we all hoped that those leaders who had looked back at their performance would make a solemn promise that they would not behave like that on the next night.

And so on to Monday night from the Concert Hall in the University of Limerick. This debate was another matter entirely. To me, the heroine of the night was Claire Byrne. She put a real smacht on them from the very beginning and strangely they obeyed her. When she said to stop talking over one another, they actually stopped. It was quite amazing to look at and indeed a wonder to behold.

The difference in this debate to the one last week was that this had seven leaders: the four who had been at the first and Richard Boyd Barrett of People Before Profit/Anti-Austerity, Lucinda Creighton of Renua, and Stephen Donnelly of the Social Democrats.

The minute that debate was over and before we went to the spin room, I decided myself that the smaller parties had won the night and so it turned out to be. That was the general reaction of all in the spin room and later in the written media on Tuesday morning.

I liked Richard Boyd Barrett the best. I felt he spoke with great passion and indeed elicited the most applause from the audience for whatever he said. The ambience of the concert hall in the university suited him fine. He always looks boyish and young, rather like a perpetual student. His mode of dress was the same: neat and unruffled but very much gear that a student would wear. He settled in well against that background and acquitted himself well too.

Lucinda Creighton was, as always, terrific. She was composed, coherent, calm, and collected and anything else you would wish to include amongst those adjectives. She spoke very strongly when she spoke about crime, particularly when she said, “Why shouldn’t parents be responsible for their children when they are brought to court?” That brought a thundering echo from the mostly young middle-class invited audience. Her arguments are always lucid and a delight to follow.

Stephen Donnelly was equally clear and concise, but somehow I felt he lacked the open charisma of both Richard Boyd Barrett and Lucinda Creighton. They were the juniors and indeed like all juniors they stole the show.

Back to the seniors. What did they have to say for themselves? Very much what had been repeated in the earlier debate, piling insults on Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin. Now, I feel that the more insults that are piled on Sinn Féin, the more their popularity seems to go up, so I would ease off on it if I were either Enda, Joan, or Micheál.

Crime is developing as a major issue, both in urban and rural areas. Of course it is. People are terrified of being molested in their own home. There is no doubt that the closure by this Government of so many Garda Stations has resulted in huge damage. A garda in a rural station knew what was going on in the neighbourhood, knew the movements of people, knew the comings and goings and a lot more besides. People would confide in him and he was aware of the tenor and tempo of an area. Now, all that has been lost.

The best bon mot of the night came from Claire Byrne. Enda Kenny was berating Micheál Martin for Fianna Fáil’s closure of Templemore. Before Micheál could answer, Claire Byrne said to the Taoiseach, “And you lot took a long time to re-open it”, leaving the Taoiseach speechless.

There was not much in it between the four leaders in that Limerick debate. So, now we have next week, on Tuesday night, and I am already looking forward to that.

February 26 is looming and one major debate. Somehow, I feel the topics are going to get worn out by the time we reach that date. In the meantime, the very best of good luck to all who are canvassing and to all who are participating in this election.

I know you will all go out to vote. It is our duty and one that we should be glad to use in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. I have no time at all for ‘the hurler on the ditch’.

Talk to you all next week.

Slán go fóill,

Mary O’Rourke.

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