Tuesday 17 September 2019

Final televised debate: Leaders go on the defensive as Adams rounds on Miriam

Adams: Who's Senator Cahill?
Martin: Wage cut was mistake
Kenny: McNulty was not my call

Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin and Tanaiste Joan Burton as they line up for their last TV Debate on RTE Prime Time with Miriam O' Callaghan
Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin and Tanaiste Joan Burton as they line up for their last TV Debate on RTE Prime Time with Miriam O' Callaghan
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

SINN Féin’s Gerry Adams turned on RTÉ’s Miriam O’Callaghan in the final televised debate ahead of the General Election, asking her: “What world are you living in?”

The party leader also told the presenter she should reveal her salary, as he struggled so often under the spotlight.

At one point, Mr Adams had to ask, “Who’s Senator Cahill?” after the story of abuse victim Mairia Cahill, who was subjected to an IRA kangaroo court, was raised by the Taoiseach.

Enda Kenny said the Sinn Féin leader “defends Mr Murphy” in reference to tax cheat Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy “but won’t defend Senator Cahill”.

A confused Mr Adams asked: “Who’s Senator Cahill?” before it was explained to him.

Read more: Report cards: How the leaders scored

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny
Fianna Fail Leader Micheal Martin arriving for TV debate on RTE
Tanaiste Joan Burton arriving for TV Debate as she answers questions from the media for RTE Prime Time

The leaders of the four main parties were all forced to defend their past actions at various stages during the debate. 

Mr Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton were also forced to defend the state of the health system and their handling of the homeless crisis, while Micheál Martin admitted cutting the minimum wage as the economy crashed was a mistake.

Mr Kenny struggled when asked to explain how the abolition of USC was fair, given that high earners stand to gain by thousands of euro as a result.

“Every worker will benefit from Fine Gael’s tax plan. When Michael Noonan reduced the USC in the last two budgets more money flows into the system. Those who have most will pay most,” he said.

He denied that his party had ‘flip-flopped’ on the issue, given Fine Gael’s previous position that USC wasn’t just a temporary tax.

Mr Adams came under attack from the three other party leaders for his tax policies, which Ms Burton described as “shocking”.

“Nobody earning about €20,000 will get any tax relief,” she said, adding that the Labour Party’s tax plan was the fairest on offer to the electorate. “We will get more than that back in terms of growth and jobs in the economy,” she said.

Mr Martin said Sinn Féin’s plan would “kill jobs in this country and SMEs”.

He described its plan to reduce tax relief on pensions “a devastating blow for average income earners”.

Ms Burton also hit out at Mr Adams over Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy, saying he had “bags and bags” of money in his hay-sheds but Sinn Féin still call him a “good republican”.

Read more: Kenny left to fight alone as Burton tones down attacks in final debate

The Fianna Fáil leader faced questions about why his party cut the minimum wage when the economic crisis hit.

He argued that Fianna Fáil originally introduced the minimum wage, but conceded cutting it was a mistake.

As Ms Burton made the point that the first thing the outgoing government did was restore the cut, Mr Martin replied: “I learned from that. I acknowledge there was very tough decisions taken in 2009 and 2010. They had to be taken.”

Read more: At last we get good political boxing, but roll on Saturday's count

Mr Adams insisted he is fit to be Taoiseach, despite his associations with the IRA and recent difficulties in explaining his party’s tax policies.

“These parties would rather discuss the IRA or my ability to count when what people want is political leadership,” he said, pointing at Enda Kenny, Micheál Martin and Joan Burton.

Mr Kenny was asked whether his party’s ‘Keep the recovery going’ message was a sign of arrogance. “I accept, of course, that many people have not felt the recovery but our challenge is to bring that to every single home,” he said.

Ms Burton was accused of backtracking on her 2011 election promises by cutting respite and disability grants as well as discretionary medical cards.

“When we came in after Micheál and his party had finished with the country, the cupboard was bare,” she said.

Irish Independent

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