Adams and Martin in bitter clashes as Coalition unites
FF legacy comes under attack as leaders struggle to land blows
Published 16/02/2016 | 02:30
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams was ridiculed over his denials of IRA membership as he became embroiled in heated exchanges with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.
The pair engaged in bitter clashes during last night's televised leaders' debate, which saw Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton adopt another united front.
The majority of the seven leaders struggled to land any significant blows during the RTÉ debate, which focussed on issues such as the economy, rural Ireland and healthcare.
The debate began with questions over whether the Government is repeating the same mistakes of the past by engaging in auction politics.
Mr Kenny insisted the country is in a "much safer position" than five years ago, but warned: "Complacency is the big enemy here." The Fine Gael leader finally ruled out the prospect of doing business with Fianna Fáil during the debate. But he produced no major gaffes and will be satisfied with his performance with just days to go until polling.
There were fiery scenes after Mr Martin attacked Mr Adams over his links to the IRA.
"There isn't a guard in the country who doesn't believe that you weren't in the IRA," Mr Martin said.
Mr Adams became agitated and uncomfortable as he urged Mr Martin to present any information he has to the gardaí.
But later, the Louth TD was ridiculed by Mr Martin, Mr Kenny and Ms Burton as he became confused over the issue of garda numbers.
Last night's debate presented a rare occasion for the smaller parties to make their case to voters. As expected, Fianna Fáil's legacy came under attack from the outset. Such a tactic was prepared in advance and widely flagged to the media in the hours leading up to the debate, held in the University of Limerick (UL).
Ms Burton immediately attacked the Fianna Fáil leader, whom she described as the "emperor with no clothes".
"He was in government for 15 years and he left just as the place went down in ruins," Ms Burton said.
The Taoiseach also zoned in on Mr Martin's record as health minister, labelling his approach to the HSE as "rubbish".
While Mr Martin failed to shine to the same degree as in last week's TV3 debate, he managed to stave off an onslaught of criticism. He raised serious questions over the Government's jobs figures, and again highlighted the problems in health under James Reilly.
The debate, the second of three to be held during the campaign, provided an opportunity to the smaller parties to present their cases to the electorate.
Stephen Donnelly, who was representing the Social Democrats, gave an assured performance as he pointed out the number of think-tanks which are warning that the "storm clouds are gathering".
The Wicklow/East Carlow TD confirmed that his party intends to maintain the hated Universal Social Charge (USC) in order to keep the tax base stable. Mr Donnelly also delivered a number of effective soundbites. He told how businessmen such as Donald Trump were greeted by "dancing girls and harpists" as they met ministers.
Renua leader Lucinda Creighton attacked the Government's record on rural Ireland.
"I spent half my life in rural Ireland. People aren't feeling the recovery there."
Anti-Austerity Alliance/ People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett struggled to gain prominence in the debate.
During his contributions, the Dún Laoghaire TD focussed on issues such as housing and healthcare.
Prior to the debate, Mr Boyd Barrett defended his decision not to wear a suit for the occasion.
"I don't see what difference wearing a suit makes to having a bit of conviction about policies you are campaigning for," he told reporters.