ENDA Kenny last night made a major play to emphasise how his party will tax people less than his opponents -- but came under pressure on what he will actually cut.
The Fine Gael leader emerged from the final leaders' debate of the 2011 General Election campaign with his opponents failing to land any real blows on him.
Mr Kenny, Eamon Gilmore and Micheal Martin plodded through a heavy debate of the campaign, which rarely ignited over the course of 90-minutes.
Mr Martin repeatedly went on the attack against Mr Kenny, particularly on where he intended to identify over €6bn in cuts and inefficiencies.
The Fianna Fail leader attempted to corner his Fine Gael counterpart on the detail of where he would cut spending on a department by department basis, which he said was absent from party's documents.
"That's not real. That's not credible," he said.
"It's not good enough," he added.
Mr Kenny said his party's proposals were set out within their policy documents.
But Mr Gilmore hit Mr Martin on his party's record on the budgetary adjustments.
"You have no credibility now because you have imposed taxes on people," he said.
Mr Kenny pushed his party's five-point plan and also his proposals to reform the public sector and political system.
"We cannot tax our way out of this crisis," he said.
"I want to assure you I will be decisive but fair. We have to stop the rot," he added.
Mr Kenny said he was not going to proceed with compulsory redundancies in his plan to reduce the numbers of staff in the public sector by 30,000.
Mr Gilmore again referred to Labour's opposition to the State bank guarantee in September 2008.
The debate covered the economy, renegotiation of the EU-IMF bailout, the banking crisis, public sector reform and job creation.
Mr Martin said there was a lack of detail in Fine Gael's policies.
"There's a fundamental dishonesty with the presentation from Fine Gael. It's pandering to the electorate," he said.
On the banking crisis, Mr Kenny said the level of indebtedness within the sector had to be established and hit back at Mr Martin.
"You're full of wind and spoof about a lot of things," he told the Fianna Fail leader.
Mr Martin was forced to defend the Government's handling of the banking crisis and argued that Anglo Irish Bank was systemic.
Fianna Fail claimed Mr Gilmore was wrong in his claim on the banking report by Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan.
The party's TD Thomas Byrne said Prof Honohan's report said Anglo was of "systemic importance".
- Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor
"WE didn't know things were so bad."
Enda Kenny prepared the way for the new government's likely excuse when it ditches election pledges by repeating no less than three times that he does not yet know how much money the banks really need. It's a good excuse because he can blame Fianna Fail when he starts to break his promises and because it's true.
While the three leaders rehearsed once again the dreary and hypothetical arguments about whether they can renegotiate the cost of the bailout, all the leaders bar Kenny once again failed to acknowledge the hundred billion-plus we now owe because of bank borrowing from the ECB.
Kenny was also strong on NAMA, which has so far been inexplicably ignored in the campaign, but he gave little insight into what he might do when he takes control of Europe's biggest property company.
Gilmore was strong when he defended Labour's record on the banks, on taxes, and when he attacked hikes in interest payments on mortgages, but he was weak when it came to outlining his plans.
Martin was hysterical and hopeless in what was easily his worst leaders' debate, trying to justify past mistakes he has already apologised for, while never looking to the future.
MARKS OUT OF 25
BY now we knew what to expect. They, and we, are old hands at these General Election 2011 debates.
There was no sense that any of them were going to mess up (Enda included). What we were looking out for was who would target who, and how.
Micheal Martin adopted a questionable boot-boy approach to all involved, including Miriam O'Callaghan. He repeatedly squabbled with the other two leaders, while Enda and Eamon were clearly thinking ahead to possible coalition talks and being nice and respectful in their exchanges. At the start, Micheal pushed himself as the "unspun" hero. Enda oozed empathy and brandished his five-point plan early and often. Eamon said the choice made on Friday would decide our future for the next 20 years.
Enda displayed more nerves than in previous debates -- taking lots of short breaths through his nose -- but settled down.
Some of the sniping between him and Micheal Martin, particularly on tax, showed how the Corkman was clearly chasing those FF voters lost to FG, and Enda was doing his best to hang on to them.
But in the squabble between Martin and Gilmore on the bank guarantee, Kenny managed to look statesman-like. It was Eamon Gilmore's best debate outing: sensible and confident, he explained Labour's policies well.
MARKS OUT OF 25
Enda Kenny 15
Eamon Gilmore 17
Michael Martin 13
PERFECTING the rehearsed lines practised in two previous debates, the three leaders reverted to their own preferred styles for mounting a defence and offensive.
The forceful agitator Micheal Martin, the passive aggressive Enda Kenny and the assertive sweeper Eamon Gilmore each commanded authority by using different levels of quiet aggression.
Completing a hat-trick of middleman positions, where he sat relaxed between the two other leaders, Mr Kenny remained calm, reasonable and assured.
His strategy was to sound and appear statesmanlike and to arise above the bickering while always working from a defensive position.
His strategy was at variance with the argumentative Mr Martin, who continued to use the classic killer line of "I didn't interrupt you" to try and drown out backbiting.
Repeatedly, he went on the offensive, attacking the proposals of Mr Kenny in particular. And he rarely, if ever, mentioned two words: "Fianna Fail".
All the while, Mr Gilmore swept and mopped up the leftovers of the arguments, often sitting back and letting the other two thrash out the issue.
Often, it meant the other two did the heavy lifting before Mr Gilmore at the end position could turn around and almost address the other two in a lecturing way.
Mr Kenny stuck to the defensive, Mr Martin stayed on the offensive with Mr Gilmore opting to mix the two.
MARKS OUT OF 25
FINE Gael leader Enda Kenny scored a hit on Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin when he recalled the Government denials issued last November that any discussions with the IMF and EU over a bailout were taking place.
"He was a central member of the Government that could not tell the truth about the IMF being in Ireland," Mr Kenny said.
And he proved competent in debating about the bailout deal and the possible negotiation of the level of payments to bank bondholders.
Mr Martin was strong on saying that Fine Gael was not giving a detailed breakdown of spending cuts like his party.
He tried with some success to pick holes in both parties' policies -- by saying there was a fundamental dishonesty in Fine Gael and Labour's plans to renegotiate the bailout.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore got the point across that Fine Gael wanted to cut child benefit, introduce water charges and a graduate tax -- all policies his party was opposed to.
And he was comfortable talking about the operation of NAMA
But he had a wobbly moment after he incorrectly claimed that Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan had not said "Anglo Irish Bank" was "systemically important" to the Irish banking system.
Mr Martin knew that he was wrong in this instance and stuck to this point.
MARKS OUT OF 25