Kenny left to fight alone as Burton tones down attacks in final debate
Published 24/02/2016 | 02:30
During last week's RTÉ leaders' debate, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton were able to show a united front when they were positioned beside each other on stage.
Last night, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin was squeezed in between the Coalition partners - possibly reflecting the current opinion poll trends.
For the final RTÉ debate, moderated by broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan, the leaders stood from left to right - Gerry Adams, Enda Kenny, Micheál Martin and Joan Burton.
Stuck between the two would-be Taoisigh, Mr Kenny was forced to fight it out alone in the early part of the debate when he faced questions on his record on the health service.
Mr Martin and Mr Adams regularly interrupted the Taoiseach as he fought to get his point across.
Noticeably, Ms Burton stayed clear of the shemozzles in the first half of the debate.
The Labour Party leader's delivery was more considered and less aggressive than in the previous debates.
She was also determined to highlight her own personal achievements while in government.
"I brought back the Christmas bonus" and "I restored the minimum wage", she said. No mention of the "we" or the Coalition.
Left to fight on his own, Mr Kenny remained calm as he faced charges on the unfairness of Fine Gael's tax policy.
When asked about his now infamous "whingers" comments, Mr Kenny did not giggle or role his eyes as he did at previous press conferences. Instead, he remained straight-faced and insisted he apologised unreservedly.
He did squirm when questioned on his controversial appointment of John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art ahead of a Seanad election.
He also let slip that he personally sought to appoint Mr McNulty, which allowed Mr Adams make capital on the faux pas.
Joan Burton turned on Mr Martin in her opening contribution when Labour was accused of failing people with disabilities.
She pointed towards the Fianna Fáil leader and highlighted the damaged economy Mr Martin's government left behind before the last election.
Mr Adams was conveniently positioned to the left (his right) of the other leaders and used the opportunity to distance himself from the other party bosses as much as possible.
He turned on Ms O'Callaghan when she questioned his IRA past and inability to handle basic accountancy and economics.
Mr Martin stayed relatively steady but wobbled on his appointment of Celia Ahern to a State board.