Fianna Fáil challenges Enda Kenny to take part in debates

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin has called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to take part in a series of one-to-one TV debates with all opposition leaders — claiming he will be “running away” unless he takes up the challenge.

Fianna Fáil challenges Enda Kenny to take part in debates

Mr Martin made the challenge as he accused Mr Kenny of deliberately avoiding non-choreographed events due to a series of recent embarrassing blunders and said the only way for the Fine Gael leader to prove otherwise is to agree to the head-on debates over the national airwaves.

Mr Martin said in recent months Mr Kenny has attempted to reduce the opportunities available for politicians and journalists to discuss the issues central to the election in any detail.

Pointing to the publication of the Fennelly report — which saw the Taoiseach give a single interview to RTÉ News moments after the investigation into why ex-garda commissioner Martin Callinan retired before disappearing for a week — and alleged moves to limit space for Dáil debates, Mr Martin claimed there has been a deliberate attempt to lessen opportunities for any in-depth discussion in recent months.

The Fianna Fáil leader said the alleged situation is hampering the 2011 general election “democratic revolution” ideal as it is preventing voters from staying fully informed of issues central to the economic recovery and election campaign.

And in a controversial move designed to pull the Taoiseach into the opposition firing line, he said the only way for Mr Kenny to brush the criticism aside is to submit to televised pre-election one-to-one debates with all of the opposition leaders to prove he is willing to debate.

“The Taoiseach is probably the closest modern-day equivalent to the Scarlet Pimpernel — they seek him here, they seek him there, but he’s not to be found unless he has a pre- organised, choreographed situation and even then there’s people shouting at you [journalists] saying that’s enough, two questions.

“If we cherish democracy, if we want to advance it, if we believe in democratic revolutions, I think the minimum we should be able to do is debate,” Mr Martin said.

“We encourage children and students to commentate and talk about issues. It’s hardly a good example if the political leaders aren’t able to do that and the whole strategy is to avoid.

“It’s not just Micheal Martin and Enda Kenny I’m talking about. I think Gerry Adams and Enda Kenny should have a debate. And I’m prepared to debate with others. The simple fact is he is running away from debate, and he continues to run away from debate. He doesn’t want to debate, he is the least accountable Taoiseach,” he said.

While Mr Kenny has previously agreed in principle to a live leaders debate on RTÉ in the run-up to the now imminent vote, this would involve a debate with a large number of opposition leaders — a situation that would reduce the opportunity for in-depth discussions.

In December, Fine Gael rejected suggestions Mr Kenny was being kept away from non-choreographed events after a series of blunders, including claims he was asked to consider putting soldiers on banks’ doors during the economic crisis.

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