Wednesday 28 September 2016

Byrne keeps a tight rein but big day can't come soon enough

Published 16/02/2016 | 02:30

Claire Byrne. Picture: FusionShooters.
Claire Byrne. Picture: FusionShooters.

Micheál Martin was talking about the lamentable non-standard of broadband across half the country. Mercifully, Enda Kenny did not get his chance to interject - something about the Government cut in VAT for the hospitality sector.

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There probably is a link between the two but it could take a while to trace it. The point is, we need most urgently of all to talk about broadband. Yet we only glanced off it.

This second televised leaders' debate on RTE1 struck a far better tone than the one last Thursday on TV3 - all credit to moderator Claire Byrne, who kept a tight rein and often debunked time-wasting guff. The incomprehensible cross-talk and bickering was absent and the fear of many, that utter chaos would result from seven participants instead of four, was not realised.

But a welcome and better-structured debate did not always yield more information.

Questions for party leaders at election time are about opportunities to do down the other crowd and run some history lessons from our recent past. We have to get on with it - the only workable remedy is likely to be a vote in 10 days' time which will end this carry-on for the moment.

The three-against-one gang-up last week involved the others against Gerry Adams. Last night, the format continued - but the target was Micheál Martin.

We were happily spared the opening statements, which are frequently time-wasting cant. Instead, we got good targeted questions from the audience, apparently picked by the opinion polling company, Red C.

For example, the first one reasonably asked why we should believe any political promises at all during this half-spent election campaign.

The second one went even further to the point: any fear of a job for our kids, our emigrants, our people despairing on spun-out dole?

There were tiresome history lessons: Joan Burton and Enda Kenny going back over some unpleasant memories relating to Fianna Fáil's term at the helm when the ship of Eirinn was going down.

None of this fazed Martin - he very reasonably pointed out that Kenny and Burton had been in government for the past five years. They had made very extravagant promises in spring 2011 - and they did not deliver.

Two telling broken promises: Education Minister Ruairi Quinn promised to cut third-level fees and Health Minister James Reilly pledged to end prescription charges.

Result: the charges increased in each case.

Gerry Adams predictably emoted about hungry children and homeless mothers, but he again confounded his figures and showed a poor grasp of detail.

But does this help us decide what we are going to do on Friday week? No.

How about the trio from the smaller parties who were given a brief opportunity to sit at the top table?

Well, Richard Boyd Barrett from the Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit did himself no harm at all.

He was fluent and hard-hitting on all the populist issues and made a telling point about council house building when this country was much poorer.

Similarly, Stephen Donnelly from the Social Democrats showed himself full of passion and fight. He certainly got points for being different and up for the fight.

Lucinda Creighton made the point - not often heard these days - that she actually quit high office on a point of principle.

She also stuck doggedly to the idea of radical tax system changes and the call for better health system management instead of more funding.

But her call to "depoliticise" the issue was a bit hopeless.

Burton struggled in the first debate and entered this one with the greatest need of a boost.

She worked hard last night - but she still struggled to make an impact.

Irish Independent

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