Judge: Ray D’Cruz
Winner: Enda Kenny
Scores: Kenny 80 | Gilmore 77 | Martin 75 | Adams 73 | Gormley 73
Enda Kenny won the Second Irish Leaders’ debate. He consistently got the balance right in this heady five-way discussion. Mr Kenny did well from the outset, his first response providing something of a vision for Ireland. In the absence of formal introductions, it was a strong start. His matter balanced principles with detailed policy and examples. On questions such mortgage relief, creating jobs and budget cuts he provided detail and presented himself as someone with solutions, and no one really challenged him. Only on the final question did he really ignore the questioner. His manner balanced calmness with passion, for the most part being constructive. Through the 90-minute debate he was the most consistent speaker; he stayed in the debate throughout.
Eamon Gilmore was second. His debate was strong in parts and weak in others. The question of who will suffer from proposed reforms was a good example of his inconsistency. His manner was combative, even bordering on hectoring as he pestered Mr Kenny about Fine Gael’s growth rate assumptions. While on one hand his manner may have alienated some, he succeeded in turning the issue toward growth rate assumptions, with several speakers then joining his attack on Mr Kenny. Mr Gilmore’s attack on Mr Kenny led to the funniest moment of the debate when Micheal Martin quipped “and these two want to go into government together…” Mr Gilmore needed to spark up from the first leaders’ debate, but he may have gone a little too far the other way in this debate. He did well on issues such as jobs creation, and reasonably well on health (though led by Mr Kenny) but these were occasional highlights.
Micheal Martin struggled in this debate. Fianna Fail was, by the consensus of his four opponents, held responsible for the mess. While Mr Martin was able to impose himself in the first leaders’ debate, he was simply overwhelmed by the numbers in this debate. He suffered particularly on the question of health where his opponents argued for fundamental reform. While Mr Martin did what he could, talking up the extra numbers being treated and progress in cancer and heart disease treatment, the compelling allure of universal health care, agreed by his four opponents isolated him. As with the first leaders’ debate, he demonstrated a command of facts and figures but he was overwhelmed and at times retreated into the debate. In the last half of the debate Mr Martin wound up in a couple of peripheral skirmishes with Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein) about things no one is likely to remember. His off the cuff comment about Labour and Fine Gael in Coalition may have pointed to a better strategy – locating and exploiting the differences between these two parties and what that might mean for Ireland.
Judging the position of minor parties in these debates is difficult. Mr Adams was consistent, yet lacking in credibility and detail. His consistency was compelling, borne of principles associated with republicanism and citizenship. Yet on too many occasions, when his initial response begged more detail, as a matter of logic, he did not deliver. He had a great opportunity at the outset to explain his funding arrangements for his overall plan for Ireland. If his plan was to clearly differentiate his party from the others, he did a good job (the comment about why no one wants to be in Coalition with Sinn Fein being a highlight). But if his aim was to build credibility, he missed opportunities in this debate to explain in some detail why and how his plan, so different from the others, could work.
Mr Gormley was like a fly on the wall. He would occasionally make a noise before retreating. Notwithstanding his representation of a minor party, it could have been different. As a one-time coalition partner of the government, there must have been more he could have injected into the debate. Mr Gormley stuck to the environmental script fairly closely, talking up some of the concessions negotiated when in coalition, but there was very little detail about future policy positions. His position on healthcare was a good example of his general vagueness: voters would have got the sense that he was broadly in support of universal health care but not too sure how to make it happen. He needed to be more present and persistent in getting his message across. Perhaps the debate structure did not suit his style and he could have flourished in different circumstances.
The differences between Micheal Martin, Gerry Adams and John Gormley were minor. The major players in this debate were Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore. In the end it was Mr Kenny’s balance in terms of matter and manner, and his consistency that saw him prevail.