Kenny agrees to Gilmore in three-way TV debate
FINE GAEL leader Enda Kenny yesterday caved in to pressure for a three-way televised leaders' debate which would include Labour's Eamon Gilmore.
In a major U-turn, Mr Kenny said he would take on all comers in a debate during the election campaign.
His move will heap further pressure on Brian Cowen to agree to open up the traditional two-way contest. Mr Kenny had previously said the debate should only be between himself and the Taoiseach. The pre-election showdown has always been between the leaders of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, but Labour's strong standing in opinion polls has led Mr Gilmore to demand that he be included.
Mr Kenny's stance, in offering to open it up to four or five leaders, could put pressure on Mr Gilmore to accept participation by the leaders of the Green Party and Sinn Fein.
However, a spokesman for Mr Gilmore, while welcoming Mr Kenny's changed position, rejected this yesterday and said the debate should be between the participants in leaders' questions in the Dail -- Mr Gilmore, Mr Kenny and Mr Cowen.
A spokesman for Fianna Fail only said that the party would "enter into discussions regarding potential debates with interested broadcasters" and did not say if a three-way debate would be accepted by Mr Cowen.
Yesterday's announcement is a major shift in position for Mr Kenny. Only last May he said: "As of now, the candidates for the office of Taoiseach, based on the way it is, are Brian Cowen and myself.
"In my view, what the people need to be able to decide on is what are the alternatives that are on offer here -- and that is between the Taoiseach and the leader of the opposition."
During a closing press conference at the think-in, Mr Kenny also said he believed the Government would fall in the coming months and that his party was already on an election footing.
He said he had been taking "soundings" from independent TDs who are supporting the Government about the possible fall of the Coalition.
"Independent deputies... don't want to be under that scaffold when it falls," Mr Kenny said. However, he said he had not yet consulted with Michael Lowry, a former Fine Gael TD and minister.
"No, I haven't taken any soundings from Michael Lowry. I do appreciate the independent deputies ... are as sharp and as wily as you'll find in any country's electoral jurisdiction and, as I say, they will not want to be under the scaffold of Government when it collapses."
Mr Kenny recently raised eyebrows in Fine Gael by suggesting that Mr Lowry could return to the party.
Delivering a speech at a birthday party for environment spokesman Phil Hogan, Mr Kenny pointed to Mr Lowry and asked: "Is that an application form I see in your top pocket?"
Fine Gael insisted that Mr Kenny was joking.