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Head to head: How Varadkar, Martin and McDonald fared in the RTÉ leaders' debate

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Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin pictured with Taoiseach and Leader of Fine Gael Leo varadkar and Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald on set before the start of the Prime Time Leaders Debate in RTE.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath
4/2/20

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin pictured with Taoiseach and Leader of Fine Gael Leo varadkar and Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald on set before the start of the Prime Time Leaders Debate in RTE.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 4/2/20

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin pictured with Taoiseach and Leader of Fine Gael Leo varadkar and Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald on set before the start of the Prime Time Leaders Debate in RTE.:Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin pictured with Taoiseach and Leader of Fine Gael Leo varadkar and Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald on set before the start of the Prime Time Leaders Debate in RTE.:Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pictured as he arrived at RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate. Picture: Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pictured as he arrived at RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate. Picture: Frank McGrath

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar pictured as he arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath
4/2/20

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar pictured as he arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 4/2/20

Sinn Féins Mary Lou McDonald pictured as she arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath
4/2/20

Sinn Féins Mary Lou McDonald pictured as she arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 4/2/20

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Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin pictured with Taoiseach and Leader of Fine Gael Leo varadkar and Sinn Féin Leader Mary Lou McDonald on set before the start of the Prime Time Leaders Debate in RTE.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 4/2/20

Who came out on top in the last debate between the leaders of the three biggest parties before Election 2020?

LEO VARADKAR

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Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar pictured as he arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath
4/2/20

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar pictured as he arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 4/2/20

Fine Gael’s Leo Varadkar pictured as he arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 4/2/20

Style

The Taoiseach was on the offensive, skewering Sinn Féin's lack of support for the Special Criminal Court and branding one of Martin's housing plans as a "SSIA boom-time scheme".

Substance

He was able to point to homeless figures of about 20,000 people in Northern Ireland. Factchecked, the number was rounded up, but it was a worthwhile exposé of Sinn Féin's record in government.

Best moment

It was probably a pre-cooked line but Varadkar pulled out a zinger when he said handing the economy back to Fianna Fáil would be "like asking John Delaney to take over the FAI again".

Worst Moment

Varadkar was unable to guarantee record trolley numbers would not be broken if Fine Gael is re-elected while claiming the policies of other parties would result in people waiting longer.

Score: 7/10

Varadkar came out fighting and put in a strong performance. With Fine Gael sliding in the polls it was his last throw of the dice. It remains to be seen if it will be enough to see him returned to office.


MICHEAL MARTIN

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Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pictured as he arrived at RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate. Picture: Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pictured as he arrived at RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate. Picture: Frank McGrath

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin pictured as he arrived at RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate. Picture: Frank McGrath

Style

Martin frequently furrowed his brow and made his trademark claw-like hand gestures as he sought to press home his points.

Substance

Martin spoke with a sense of urgency and authority on the crucial issues of housing and health and was able to succinctly outline his party's plans, especially on hospital overcrowding.

Best moment

He skewered Sinn Féin's tax proposals, detailing how they would involve numerous new taxes to raise some €4bn. He said these were "magic numbers" and warned of the flight of capital.

Worst moment

Looked uneasy when the typos in Fianna Fáil's manifesto were raised and was scrambling when Varadkar pointed out that his staff had signed a pledge to freeze rents. Also dropped his notes.

Score: 6/10

Exuded experience - a good and bad thing in this election - and overall performed a lot better than he did in earlier TV debates.


MARY LOU MCDONALD

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Sinn Féins Mary Lou McDonald pictured as she arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath
4/2/20

Sinn Féins Mary Lou McDonald pictured as she arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 4/2/20

Sinn Féins Mary Lou McDonald pictured as she arrived at the RTE for the Prime Time Leaders Debate.Picture Credit:Frank McGrath 4/2/20

Style

McDonald applied her usual robust style of debating and regularly sought to interject when her rivals were speaking.

Substance

She was light on detail when quizzed on her polices and focused her contributions on saying her party was an alternative to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Attacked their polices but did not offer many solutions.

Best moment

She tapped into the public mood for change and accused Martin of propping up Varadkar's government. She said it was "not credible" for Martin to claim to be a "face of change".

Worst moment

McDonald appeared exposed when questioned on the comment her party member Conor Murphy made about the tragic murder of Paul Quinn. Mr Murphy wrongly claimed the young man was murdered because he was involved in criminality.

A clip from BBC Spotlight, in which Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy claims Paul Quinn was 'involved in smuggling and criminality'.

Score: 5/10

McDonald battled to be included in the RTÉ debate and in the end was outfoxed by both Varadkar and Martin. On this performance she won't win over many undecided voters.

Irish Independent