John Boland: Passion, not cliches, wins day
PITY the subtitlers. The debate had been recorded in TG4's Galway studios only a few hours earlier, but for the benefit of myself -- and, indeed, the majority of the population who neither speak Irish fluently nor understand it when it's spoken -- the translators must have worked under extreme pressure to render it into language we could understand.
They did so extremely well.
Perhaps some nuances were lost, but the detail of what was being said was all there at the foot of the screen, right down to the subordinate clauses, and if the viewer spent at least as much time scanning the words as registering facial expressions, well, that's the price to be paid for not knowing a language.
And the debate itself was considerably more engrossing than was to be found on RTE1's 'The Frontline' two nights earlier -- not just because three people inevitably got the opportunity to say more in a given time span than five could manage but also because what they said was a lot more substantial.
Indeed, the three leaders seemed to revel in the freedom that was afforded to them to expound their beliefs and policies on a variety of issues at some length -- and, to these ears, with commanding linguistic fluency.
That said, the programme had a definite downside -- most of it, I regret to say, due to Eimear Ni Chonaola, who was chairing the proceedings.
A newcomer to me, no doubt she was as nervously aware of the occasion's importance as the men she was interviewing, but she over-compensated by being too intrusive and strident throughout.
She was constantly interrupting -- most annoyingly when, having asked a question, she then cut in with another before the interviewee had hardly begun to answer.
Indeed, if you closed your eyes, it was her voice you heard more than any of the others, which is not what interviewing should be about, especially when the interviewer lacks the hard-won authority to silence an interviewee with her interventions.
The visual set-up was unsatisfactory, too -- the interviewer on the very left and Micheal Martin on the extreme right, so that Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny had to turn from her to him if they wished to directly engage him in argument.
And a good deal of argument there turned out to be on a variety of national and local Gaeltacht issues, and conveyed with a sense of feeling, too, by all three.
Indeed, the occasion was notable for its avoidance of routine speechifying, the cliches being confined to the debate's opening, when each of the three was asked to state his vision for Ireland -- Gilmore vowing to "give it back to the people", Kenny trotting out his "best small country in the world" pledge, and Martin envisioning a nation where hope could stem from "sensible plans".
I didn't detect any obvious winner.
Kenny remained the calmest, but if Gilmore and Martin seemed overheated at times, their intemperance seemed the manifestation less of political dog-fighting than of real passion, which isn't a bad thing.