Tuesday 17 September 2019

Last night's TV: Presidential Debate TV3

He pledged not to intervene very much, but thankfully Vincent Browne didn't keep to his word and spoil all our fun, says Eithne Tynan.

If you had to pick the best moment in last night's Big Presidential Debate, hosted by Vincent Browne on TV3, you'd probably have to say it was seeing Martin McGuinness suffer.

He didn't suffer, mind, in the way you might suffer if someone in your family had been lying in an unmarked grave since the 1970s, but still. It was a refreshing antidote to all that fly-fishing propaganda.

It happened when Browne began questioning McGuinness about his position in the IRA beyond 1974. He began producing one book after another from somewhere under his table, all of which claim McGuinness was still in the IRA long after he admitted he was. “I know you were in the IRA, Martin,” he assured McGuinness, while McGuinness tried the defence that nobody cares about this any more.

It was a glorious moment, marred only by the inevitable close-up of Gay Mitchell's self-satisfied face. McGuinness accused Browne of taking the debate “down a blind alley” (and, presumably, kneecapping it). Browne did allow that McGuinness has “a record of achievement and of substance that perhaps not many other people in politics have”, not looking at Gay Mitchell in particular. But nevertheless, it becomes increasingly clear that if Martin McGuinness had not been a terrorist he would be regarded simply as a bore.

There were many other good moments too. “I want a free-flowing debate between the candidates,” Browne had announced at the start, setting out the “rules of engagement”. He pledged not to intervene very much, which threatened to spoil all our fun, but happily he didn't keep his word.

Dana kept holding up the Constitution like a bible, but a thin bible – probably just the book of Revelation. The camera was entranced by her shiny hair, her lip gloss, her pleading little eyebrows, the rosary beads – sorry, pearls – around her neck. Dana believes the presidency is the only defence against those infidels in Europe. How dare they suggest we shouldn't carry our uncles' babies to term? Oops, correction: how dare they suggest we should raise our corporation tax rate?

Mary Davis came across very stern and teachery. She made you feel like drawing cartoons of her in your copybook and showing them to the child next to you. The adult version of that is negative campaigning, about which Davis had a right old moan.

Davis was questioned about her membership of all those boards. Dana interrupted, wanting to let it be known that she has never been on any boards (unless you count those two boards she's been nailed to all these years on behalf of the Unborn).

Sean Gallagher was asked about being the stealth Fianna Fáil candidate. Gallagher talks like a Powerpoint presentation. He wants to focus on the future, not the past. He has always focused on solutions. “Management is about doing things right; leadership is about doing the right thing.” The next chapter... social inclusion... building bridges... Zzzz. Gallagher's only tangible idea seems to be the amalgamation of election literature, to save the taxpayers some money.

“Presumably you mean citizens, not taxpayers,” put in Browne.

That idea won't wash with Gay Mitchell. He's the Printers' Friend, is Gay Mitchell. Browne asked him about having spent €33,000 on posters in the last European election. “We have printers out there who have no work!,” said Mitchell.

Norris was asked about pederasty, of course, and about his non-disclosure of the Other Letters. Browne plagued him as to the identity of the legal adviser who had counselled him not to disclose the letters. Norris kept smiling that smile of his that doesn't reach his eyes, and doing his “Old Dears Love Me” act.

Michael D Higgins hardly got a word in edgeways, and either despite or because of that, was the unofficial winner. The official winner, of course, was Vincent Browne.

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