SINN Fein’s Gerry Adams has insisted he is fit to be Taoiseach despite his associations with the IRA and recent struggles to explain his party’s tax policies.
The party leader insisted the IRA “is now history” during the opening exchanges of the RTE Prime Time debate.
Pressed by Miriam O’Callaghan on whether his past is an obstacle to him leading the country, Mr Adams said: “I have never tried to hide my associate with the IRA.
The IRA is now history. It’s now gone. We’re living in a new era,” he said.
Mr Adams denied he was “at sea in terms of basic figures”.
“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, Micheal Martin and Joan Burton.
The first question faced by Mr Kenny was weather 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.
The Taoiseach also apologised again for using the word “whingers” in Castlebar at the weekend, insisting that he was directing his comments at Fianna Fail councillors and not the public.
Tánaiste Joan 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 Micheal and his party had finished with the country the cupboard was bear,” she said.
Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin argued that the banking inquiry has reported that all the main parties were following similar policies before the economic crash.
“We did make mistakes but we learned from the mistakes,” he said.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams had to ask ‘who is Senator Cahill’ after the plight of abuse victim Mairia Cahill was raised by Enda Kenny.
Mr Kenny said the Sinn Fein president “defends Mr Muprhy” in reference to tax cheat Thomas ‘Slab’ Murphy “but won’t defend Senator Cahill”.
A confused Mr Adams asked: "Who's Senator Cahill?"
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 budget 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.
She said low and middle income earners would benefit most.
“We will get more than that back in terms of growth and jobs in the economy,” she said.
Mr Martin said Sinn Fein’s plan would “kill jobs in this country and SMEs”.
He described their 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 haysheds but Sinn Fein still call him a “good republican”.
The Fianna Fail leader was faced questions about why his party cut the minimum wage when the economic crisis.
He argued that Fianna Fail 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.
He added: “I acknowledge there was very tough decisions taken in 2009 and 2010. They had to be taken.”
Tanaiste Joan Burton and Gerry Adams clashed on housing with the Sinn Fein leader accusing the Labour and Fine Gael of “abdicating responsibility” on the issue.
“You'd imagine these folks were not Government,” he said during RTE Primetime leaders' debate.
Ms Burton denied it was "too late" to address the homeless crisis which has developed under the current Government.
“I don't want to see anyone being homeless. My heart goes out to anyone who looses their own homes,” she said.
“Gerry Adams doesn't recognise the importance of an independent central bank in solving this issue.”
Fianna Fail's Michael Martin said that the Government's was a “shameful record” but denied that Fianna Fail started the crisis.
“You can't blame Fianna Fail for everyone.” added Mr Martin.
All the leaders were uncomfortable when asked about cronyism.
Mr Kenny insisted everything has changed since Fianna Fáil were in power, but then admitted that his appointment of John McNulty to the board of Irish Museum of Modern Art (Imma) to bolster his chances in the 2014 by-election was wrong.
“What I did was make an appointment that didn’t need to be make,” he said.
Mr Martin was asked about the appointment of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s then partner Celia Larkin to the Consumer Protection Agency. He argued she did a good job with the body.
Ms Burton was asked about her recent selection of David Begg for the Pensions Authority and again insisted he was the right person for the job.
Mr Adams took massive exception when told the ordinary people would be worried that he might appoint people like Bobby Storey, who has strong IRA connections, to State board.
The Sinn Fein leader asked: “What’s wrong with Bobby Storey?”