It’s still too soon in campaign for risks
Published 12/02/2016 | 02:30
It was loud, but the level of "boxing" said it's still too early to take risks - much less go for broke as a fortnight of campaigning lies ahead.
Election 2016's first leaders' debate on TV3 was engaging for anoraks, and showed some flashes of old-style aggression. But it lacked popular zing.
Arguments rehearsed by Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams were ventilated all through week one at their party launches.
This was an attempt to distil and popularise them. But the exchanges were still heavy on detail and lacked real aggression.
On the big picture of the economy, they reverted to type. Enda Kenny pledged tax cuts, which he argued would ultimately give more revenue through a vibrant economy.
Ms Burton kept telling a story of lower tax for the lower paid - and her party as the party of work. Fianna Fáil came out strongly on quality of life, Sinn Féin as friends of those on low incomes.
The section on health was dispiriting, involving some low-grade sniping from a trio - Burton, Kenny, Martin - who all share a chunk of responsibility for 16 years' shortcomings. Adams's party is in power north of the border, where he claims things are not quite as bad.
All of them were saying things could be worse, and in fact have been worse in times past.
But there were two almost unnoticed admissions from the Taoiseach: a large one, that his 2011 major health plan is back at the drawing board on square one; and a more sectoral admission on the shameful debacle about the scarcity in 2013/2014 of discretionary medical cards for serious ill and disabled people. Mr Kenny regrets our health system is not better.
Crime showed a predictable 3:1 line-up with Gerry Adams pretty hopelessly outclassed, and his arguments on the Special Criminal Court hopelessly exposed by all the others.
All four parties carry responsibility here. But Sinn Féin's legacy issues are special here as they await an SCC judgement today.
The crunch questions - on coalition options - left us wise as ever. Watch those Dáil figures come count day.