Michael Clifford: Loads of heat, but not a lot of light in leaders’ debate

Another debate, another ninety minutes wired for sound and on guard for a slip or stray word.

Michael Clifford: Loads of heat, but not a lot of light in leaders’ debate


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Catherine Murphy had her turn at being the leader of the Social Democrats, taking over from her co-leader, Roisin Shortall.

And People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett handed the hard left baton to Mick Barry, the Solidarity TD.

Boyd Barrett had been one of the shining lights the first night but there was no chance that he would be put out again. The PBP/Solidarity alliance is still together against all previous form on the left and that takes a lot of delicate balancing.

They arrived at the Virgin Media Studio between 8.15pm and 8.45pm, some of them looking slightly the worst for wear from the miles.

All except the Taoiseach stopped to throw a few morsels out to the waiting media pack. Mick Barry said he was looking forward to debating “tweedledum and tweedledee”.

Mary Lou McDonald said she would go on the attack and in the debate she was true to her work. And then Eamon Ryan was asked about his strategy. “Be honest, speak the truth, speak your mind,” he said. And with that he ambled into the fray.

Ivan Yates began proceedings by lobbing in a bomb, calling the seven a bunch of chancers. “This is a fundementially dishonest election,” he said.

Picture: Maxwells
Picture: Maxwells

Leo asked not to put on the bold step with the others as he had overseen a government that had been prudent.

That set the tone for the evening. Matt Cooper got stuck into Micheal Martin who was having none of it. “Matt, you interrupted me twice now,” he said.

Then Mary Lou came in for it. Her figures were not endorsed by the Department of Finance, Yates told her. She said she didn’t accept that giving a break to people was some kind of a reckless giveaway.

That was a signal for Martin and Varadkar to jump in to tear apart the Shinners manifesto. And on it went with skin and hair flying, loads of heat but not a lot of light.

“Eamon, get a grip,” Yates said, when the Greens leader suggested we should increase the size of the state.

“You have been less promiscuous,” Yates told Brendan Howlin and then asked him whether the election was dishonest.

The fare jumped all around the place, from property tax to income tax to tax and spend. The whole thing was very taxing.

What quickly became obvious was that the moderators had come to the conclusion that the campaign had not yet really come to life and this was an opportunity to see the cut of their respective jibs.

Picture: Maxwells
Picture: Maxwells

The theory was sound, the intent true but the execution turned out to be unwieldy.

With seven leaders to negotiate and Ivan in particular practically throwing himself into the fray at times, it all got a bit out of hand.

In the end the perennial question was left hanging in the studio. Will it make any difference to how people are going to vote? Only polling day and the long view of history will be able to answer that.

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