Judge: Colm Flynn
Winner: Eamon Gilmore
Scores: Gilmore 82 | Kenny 81 | Martin 76
This was the long awaited three-way debate between Enda Kenny (FG), Michael Martin (FF) and Eamon Gilmore (Labour). After some fairly bland opening statements the debate moved into a number of sections.
Economy: At times this felt like it was going around in circles partly because most of this had already been trashed out in the earlier debates so they all knew what the others were going to say. Also the moderator Miriam O’Callaghan had a habit of asking questions that have been dealt with five minutes before which didn’t help. In this section Kenny did well and probably came out on top mainly because he refused to be dragged down into the row. At times he looked like a bored parent trying to ignore two children squabbling. It would have been nice to see more passion from him but he focused on his core answers and because he refused to get into a row he was able to clearly put his arguments across. Gilmore was stylistically better at times but his facts didn’t seem as strong as Kenny who had clearly well researched supporting data for his proposals. Throughout this section Martin was being hammered for his record in government and returned to his previous debate strategy of attack being the best form of defence. However this time he ran into a tag team. When he attacked Kenny, Gilmore would come in next and attack him. When he attacked Gilmore the statesman like Kenny would come in and scold Martin for his past performances. At the end of this Martin looked frustrated.
Tax and cuts: In this section Kenny was under more attack on his policies. Telling people to look up www.finegael.ie to get the details just struck me as a cop out. He seemed unable to answer the questions and resorted back to stock prepared answers. He was called on it too when Martin highlighted Kenny’s standard lines of Legacy, 5 year plan and fist in the air. Martin was aggressive, accusing both Kenny and Gilmore of not being specific. The fact that he didn’t give a lot of detail beyond “we have published detailed budgets for each department” may not have given any more detail than the others but it sounded more convincing. Gilmore drifted out of the debate for a while but was strong in defence of his policies and well capable to bring the fight back to Martin’s record in Government.
Jobs: This section felt like it lacked some focus not helped by O’Callaghan asking strange questions (talk about how we can make the banks increase credit flowing to businesses but don’t mention the banks in your answer). Stylistically they were all fairly level. Gilmore did well on catching the other two on flaws such as the nature of strategic state assets. He just about shaded this segment for me but at this point it felt as though the debate was taking a breather for a few minutes.
Health: In this section we were back to Kenny and Gilmore teaming up to attack Martin on his record. In a similar strategy to the first section when Martin would attack one of the others the third would come in and force Martin back on the defensive. At times it was a withering assault on Martin’s record. The only blows Martin managed to land in return were both on Kenny in relation to some flaws in Kenny’s Dutch health model and on losing 8000 health care workers from the system. Gilmore’s proposal to retain but reform the HSE seemed to get less scrutiny and came across as a more balanced approach
The last two segments (social justice and leadership) were more closing statements than a debate.
So in terms of the winner it’s tight call but there was a clear loser: Micheal Martin. Martin lost because his attack approach now came across as anger and frustration rather than conviction over what he was saying. He found himself out gunned and couldn’t avoid the attacks on his record in government. Kenny and Gilmore had different goals and to a certain degree they both succeeded. Kenny while suffering a few blows from Martin and perhaps overplaying the aloof statesman strategy in the first segment will be happy that he didn’t make any major blunders and landed a few blows himself. Gilmore will, by now, have given up on any chance of being Taoiseach and that freed his hands a bit more. He could engage more in his natural aggressive style and also benefitted from his proposals not coming under the same scrutiny as Kenny’s and Martin’s. Kenny and Gilmore will both be happy going away from tonight’s debate but Martin won’t be as happy as he was after the first two debates.