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John Boland: Enda's not the loudest but he exudes aura of authority

Gilmore didn't disgrace himself but he registered only as a secondary, bit-part player

ENDA Kenny's priority during the fourth Leaders' Debate was "not to make a mistake".

So argued RTE political correspondent David McCullagh on the teatime news, also observing that for Eamon Gilmore it was "do or die at this stage" and that Micheal Martin would be well-advised to focus on reassuring the dwindling band of Fianna Fail loyalists.

In the event, the Fianna Fail leader probably did please those diehards who relish him at his most combative and querulous, though these are traits that presumably find more favour at local party rallies than among sceptical television viewers, who tend to find naked shows of testiness extremely tedious.

And he didn't even practise what he preached. Constantly complaining that the other two leaders were interrupting him, he then went on to interrupt them almost every time they opened their mouths.

His habit of describing their policies and utterances as "dishonest" was unfortunate, too.

Given his own government's record, and particularly its denials and obfuscations last winter over the IMF deal, the use of the word was an obvious hostage to fortune and was seized on by the Fine Gael leader, who observed that Micheal Martin belonged to a government "that could not tell the truth" about its IMF negotiations.

"You're full of wind and spoof about a lot of things," Kenny dismissively said during one of Martin's outbursts -- an uncharacteristic, and thus all the more striking, rebuke from a man who earlier in the day had declared his disdain for the "bickering and rows" that can go on in debates.

More typical was his cool chiding of Martin and Gilmore when they indulged in a prolonged bout of such bickering.

Indeed, with each debate Kenny has become more assured and last night he was certainly the most commanding of the three men -- not by speaking the most or the loudest but by exuding an unmistakeable aura of vocal and visual authority, where words -- or even five-point plans -- are less important than conveying an assured sense of presence.

No doubt his knowledge that he's about to become the next Taoiseach had a good deal to do with that.

Martin, by contrast, conveyed the sense of a terrier caught in a corner, fighting with all the weapons at his disposal -- invective, snippiness, whatever -- but still trapped in that corner and destined to be stuck in it for a long time to come.

As for Eamon Gilmore, he didn't disgrace himself -- indeed, he argued Labour's case with some spirit -- but in a strange way he hardly registered, except as a secondary player who may or may not get a bit-part role in a production that's about to be directed by his Fine Gael rival.

Irish Independent