Wednesday 17 January 2018

Leaders turn on Adams as crime dominates TV debate

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams TD
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams TD
TV3's Colette Fitzpatrick, Gerry Adams TD, Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD, Tanaiste Joan Burton TD, Micheal Martin TD and Newstalk's Pat Kenny. Photo: Sam Boal/ 
Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD at the first General Election 2016 TV and radio debate on TV3. Photo: Sam Boal/
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin TD at the first General Election 2016 TV and radio debate on TV3. Photo: Sam Boal/
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams TD at the first General Election 2016 TV and radio debate on TV3. Photo: Sam Boal/
Tanaiste and Labour Party leader Joan Burton TD at the first General Election 2016 TV and radio debate on TV3. Photo: Sam Boal/

Kevin Doyle and Barry Lennon

The leaders of Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil turned on Gerry Adams in the first televised debate of the General Election campaign.

Mr Adams became increasingly irritated as the other leaders pressed him on Sinn Féin policy for fighting crime, as law and order continued to dominate the election agenda.

Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin said it was "the height of hypocrisy" for Mr Adams "to parade yourself as a civil libertarian objecting to the Special Criminal Court".

"There are many people in Northern Ireland who would have much preferred the Special Criminal Court than the kangaroo courts ye oversaw for years," Mr Martin said.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny suggested it was ironic for the Sinn Féin president to demand that the Government do something about criminal gangs in border areas - while simultaneously calling for the court to be abolished.

And Tánaiste Joan Burton said: "I don't know what planet Gerry Adams is living on by having a witness protection programme in place of the Special Criminal Court.

"For a man who's auditioning to be Taoiseach, this is appalling."

All three leaders ruled out going into a coalition with Sinn Féin during the 'VOTE2016 - The Leaders' Debate' live on TV3 and Newstalk.

Mr Adams responded: "The politicians here could learn a lesson from the Unionists who have more reason not to trust SF but Ian Paisley can go into government with Martin McGuinness."

During a section on health, Mr Kenny said he "regretted" that Fine Gael were unable to fulfil many of the promises made before the 2011 election.

He said that in certain areas the service "hasn't measured up" but insisted the number of people on trolleys in emergency departments was reducing.

Ms Burton said no elderly person should be on a trolley "so we have to change our system so that elderly people don't just have to go into hospital".

She said the Coalition had opened 60 primary care centres and would continue to fund more if re-elected.

Micheál Martin defended his record as a former minister for health, and said that if Fianna Fáil was in government after the election he would like his party to take the health portfolio.

"The man [Enda Kenny] has some brass neck to talk the way he talks about health. Their policies and performance is a disgrace," he said.

Gerry Adams denied that Sinn Féin are overseeing a crisis in the health system in Northern Ireland.

When asked how she would manage the economy for the next five years Ms Burton said her party would put the emphasis on creating jobs.

She said she was "mystified" to see Sinn Féin only abolishing USC on income up to €19,572 and accused Mr Adams of having "fuzzy Sinn Féin economics that is a jobs killer".

Mr Martin accused the Government of causing a "dissemination of public service".

The Taoiseach replied: "Neither Sinn Féin or Fianna Fáil can have any of this unless you have an economy that thrives."

The issue of the Eighth Amendment was the only time Mr Kenny and Ms Burton disagreed during the debate, which was moderated by Newstalk's Pat Kenny and TV3's Colette Fitzpatrick.

The Fine Gael leader did not commit to repeal of the ban but proposed "people's convention to review" the law.

However, the Labour leader said she would try to convince Fine Gael on a referendum.

"We've been talking about this for 30 years. I speak as a mother," she said.

Irish Independent

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