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TG4 breaks more than language barrier in TV debate

THE presenter of the first-ever leaders' debate 'as Gaeilge' last night revealed the pressure TG4 was under to deliver.

Wednesday night's three-way leadership debate was the biggest opportunity the Irish language has had in years to reach into people's living rooms.

And the event proved to be a huge success for TG4 as more than 400,000 people tuned in to watch Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore and Micheal Martin go head-to-head. Host Eimear Ní Chonaola said that, despite anchoring the news five nights a week, she never experienced anything like the pressure in the build-up to the historic event.

"There were a lot of nerves beforehand, it was a big showcase for TG4," she told the Irish Independent from the station's studios in Co Galway.

"There was a lot of work put into it, everybody from the technical staff to people in the canteen working to put on bigger breakfasts for the press corps who landed here, it was just such great team work."

In excess of 408,000 people tuned in to at least some part of the debate on Wednesday evening and a further 175,000 people watched the repeat.

A further 10,000 people followed the debate online, with TG4 estimating it captured the attention of almost 500,000.

TG4's audience research expert David Moore said most didn't have Irish as their first language.

"It was a huge audience for us, given that the number of native Irish speakers stands at about 100,000, it shows that interest in the debate was huge and went way outside our core audience.

"I think people are genuinely interested in this campaign," Ms Ní Chonaola said, adding that she was extremely impressed with the politicians' level of Irish.

"There was no searching for words or thinking in English and trying to translate it, they really just seemed to have a great fluency."

But she insists she can't say which of the three party leaders spoke the best Irish.

"I can't comment on that one," she joked.

All three of the leaders' debates in this general election campaign so far have attracted huge audiences: more than a million people saw some part of the TV3 debate despite the absence of Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny. And an even larger audience of 1.5 million people tuned in to the five-way debate hosted by RTE's 'The Frontline' on St Valentine's Day.

The final debate between the leaders of Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour will take place on Tuesday February 22 at 9.35pm on RTE One.

Irish Independent