Last night was the Leaders’ Debate on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live and it was a somewhat more even-tempered affair than the previous TV3-Newstalk broadcast. For a start it included a fair balance between the parties of the Right (Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and Renua) and those of the Left (Sinn Féin, Social Democrats and Anti-Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit). The libertarian-fest that characterised last week’s debate was largely absent, as was the “Get Adams” theme (up to a point). A lot of credit must go to Claire Byrne herself who did a better job of handling the big political personalities, all seven of them, than Pat Kenny and co.
In terms of winners and loosers, there was no single knock-out victor. While most of the participants can be satisfied that they presented a good case to their own core vote its remains to be seen if they reached out much beyond that. The “undecideds” continue to be a stubbornly high percentage in the polls. If I had to rate them, in order of performance, I would place Richard Boyd Barrett TD (AAA/PBP) and Gerry Adams TD (SF) at neck-and-neck with Stephen Donnelly TD (SocDems) coming in a very close second. Though I have reservations about Boyd Barrett (and Socialist Workers Party entryists in general) I found myself pretty much in agreement with him throughout. Adams was certainly a lot more confident in a debate where he was given some room to breathe. As predicted following the TV3-Newstalk mêlée he and his team had a better defence prepared for the predictable attacks that inflicted some damage last time. Donnelly was the personification of television smooth, as some of his rivals noted, however he was just as effective as his more experienced left-wing rivals. Is this really the face of the new (Centre-)Left in Ireland?
With three strong progressive voices in the studio Micheál Martin TD (FF) looked a lot less reassured than he did last time, though he still dominated right-wing opinion (despite his centrist-leanings). Enda Kenny TD (FG) was, well, Enda Kenny. His handlers will be happy with his showing and he seemed closer to Martin this time around in terms of presentation. Last place was a tie between Joan Burton TD (Labour) and Lucinda Creighton TD (Renua). The latter was probably the more television-friendly of the two though she still represents the further right of Irish politics. The best that can be said about Burton, well, at least she wasn’t as bad as last week.