Leaders' Debate

Rolling updates as Kenny, Burton, Martin and Adams face off

Dan Griffin, Fiach Kelly, Sarah Bardon Thu, Feb 11
LIVE: Leaders' Debate

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  • This event has now ended
  • 19:03
    The first leaders' debate of general election 2016 gets underway on TV3 in less than two hours.
  • 19:11

    The debate between Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams will last 90 minutes and we'll be following the whole thing here on the Irish Times.

    Political writers Fiach Kelly and Sarah Bardon will be contributing with expert analysis and a run down of the main points while communities editor David Cochrane will monitor the reaction on social media.

    We will also have video throughout the night as well as more in-depth articles when all the shouting's over.

  • 19:17

    But first, some bingo. One week into campaigning and the parties have remained firmly on message. With that in mind, Sarah Bardon has compiled a list of buzzwords and phrases to listen out for tonight:

    1: How many times will Enda Kenny say the word recovery? (We reckon 5,000 times)

    2: How many times will the Tánaiste ask “Can I just say?” (Digest Towers can’t predict)

    3: How many times will Micheál Martin say the words “fairness” and “fundamental”? (A reasonable few hundred times)

    4: Will Gerry Adams go longer than a minute without mentioning 1916? (No)

    5: Which party leader will go the longest without mentioning Fianna Fáil’s role in the crash? (Micheál doesn’t count here, you understand).

    6: Who will be the first leader to mention the dreaded “f” term? (fiscal space)

    7: Will Micheál Martin last longer than his initial 30-second speech without reminding us that this Government wants a coronation, not an election?

    8: At what point will Joan Burton remind us that she voted against the bank guarantee?

    9: Who has a plan? Enda has a plan. How many times will we hear about the plan?

    10: Who will be the first leader to mention Gerry Adams’s past or his stance on the Special Criminal Court?

    11: At what point will  Alan Kelly  race in and declare he is in fact the boss of the  Labour  Party?

    12: While we are on that point, at what stage willVincent Browne  run in and grab the mic from Pat Kenny? We would just love to see the Taoiseach’s response to that one.

  • 19:28
    Joan Burton might be as concerned tonight about the security of her seat as the future of her party but the Labour leader played down a newspaper poll today saying she was in trouble in Dublin West.
  • 19:39
    If you feel like getting in touch tonight you can tweet us @dangriffinIT @SarahBardon and @fiachkelly
  • 19:43
  • 19:49
    <p>No doubt there will be much mud thrown tonight in the debate, though Enda Kenny is unlikely to need white overalls, as he did today when announcing the creation of 175 new jobs by Chanelle Group in Loughrea.</p>

    No doubt there will be much mud thrown tonight in the debate, though Enda Kenny is unlikely to need white overalls, as he did today when announcing the creation of 175 new jobs by Chanelle Group in Loughrea.

  • 19:56

    Things have changed in the past five years. For one, Enda Kenny is now prepared to appear on a TV3 debate. That wasn't the case five years ago when the row over the first televised leaders’ debate of the campaign overshadowed much of the campaigning. The problem for Kenny centred around comments made by TV3 presenter Vincent Browne on suicide. But with Pat Kenny and Colette Fitzpatrick at the helm tonight, Kenny seems happy enough to slug it out with the other party leaders.

    Here's the top line from one of our reports at the time:

    "Green Party leader John Gormley has offered to replace Enda Kenny in tomorrow’s televised leaders' debate on TV3."

    Yes, things have changed.

  • 20:04

    Burton, who is the first leader to arrive at the TV3 studios, sets the tone: "This is probably a bit like the political Oscars except probably a lot less fun."

  • 20:09
    An Taoiseach has arrived at TV3 studios.<br />Tanaiste Joan Burton arrived nearly an hour ago.  
    An Taoiseach has arrived at TV3 studios.
    Tanaiste Joan Burton arrived nearly an hour ago.  
  • 20:11
    Kenny is the second party leader to arrive at TV3, out there in Ballymount, Dublin. The leaders, we are told, will be kept apart as they prepare for tonight's debate. A sporting Pat Kenny says the contest will be "like a football match" in that things may not go according to the participants game plan. That's a tenuous enough comparison, in fairness. He would have been better off saying it's going to be like a football match because it'll be 90 minutes long and left it at that. Anyway, less than 50 minutes to kick off now.  
  • 20:17

    Another one from the vaults here, Miriam Lord's take on the televised leaders' debate of 2011.  

    Micheál Martin, son of a boxer, outscored Eamon Gilmore last night. He danced clever, often flat-footing his experienced opponent with a calm and measured aggression.

  • 20:19
    But, five years on, will Micheál "the Butterfly" Martin have the steps to outmaneuver the Notorious Joan Burton?
  • 20:30
  • 20:32
  • 20:34
    The Irish Polling Indicator poll of polls show how the parties have fared in popularity over the past five years. A very consistent performance from the Greens, it must be said.
    The Irish Polling Indicator poll of polls show how the parties have fared in popularity over the past five years. A very consistent performance from the Greens, it must be said.
  • 20:41
  • 20:42
    All the leaders are there now with Gerry Adams and Micheál Martin arriving in the last short while.
  • 20:55
  • 20:56
    That's Red Rock wrapped up so. Expect the real drama to begin in a few minutes.
  • 21:01
  • 21:01
    Hello folks. Fiach Kelly here, I'll be liveblogging for the next 90 minutes with my colleague Dan Griffin.  
  • 21:01
    The leaders are in place now and, Pat and Colette are inviting them to make a 60 second opening statement.
  • 21:02
    "Do we stick to a plan that's working or gamble on an uncertain future?" says Burton.
  • 21:02

    Harry McGee on the strengths and weaknesses of each of the leaders as the debate begins . . .  

    Enda Kenny leads the largest party and comes into the election when the economy is going through a very strong resurgence. He will offer a message of prudence and stability.  

    His vulnerabilities are that the economy is not his strong suit and he can be poor on specifics, or on abstract concepts. Others will hope he will struggle on figures, especially on the fiscal gap.  

    He will also face attacks from other leaders for the perception Fine Gael favours the rich, and for a certain ambivalence over Michael Lowry. While not as much a mark as Labour in this regard, Fine Gael will be criticised over its performance on health and housing.  

    Micheál Martin is probably the best toe-to-toe debater of the four and is strong on specifics. Fianna Fáil is no longer as toxic as it was five years ago.  

    Having said that it has not yet come out of purdah. He will be reminded of many past sins tonight and the fact that his party has no realistic proposition of leading a government. He can also get piqued, though, and it makes him sound petulant.  

    Joan Burton is also a very combative debater and will leave no stone unturned. She has  most to lose and will be the most assertive of the four. Like Kenny, she will argue for stability but will also try to make a more subtle argument, that Labour is also required as a balance or counter to Fine Gael.  

    On the downside, Labour's over-promises of five years ago will be a recurrent theme, especially the infamous Tesco ad. Labour's reduced circumstances in a Fine Gael-government will also crop up. Her relationship with Alan Kelly and his record on housing and homelessness are also potentially soft underbellies. Burton's style can be over-long and can occasionally verge on domineering. She will need to be careful about this.  

    Gerry Adams has extraordinary cache and his recognition extends well beyond the electoral strength of Sinn Féin. While his opponents don't rate him as a perform in the Dáil, the public does. While not enamoured of him they certainly accord him a respect politicians don't. Sinn Féin is a rising party and has scored points against the other parties in relation to their calculations of the fiscal space.  

    Where do you begin on where he will be criticised? On a personal level, he is poor on the economy and, like Kenny, falters on details. Surprisingly, for such an experience politicians, he can be ponderous and patronising in debate.  

    His opponents will zero in on Sinn Féin's policy to abolish the Special Criminal Court, its intention to retain the unpopular USC, its third tax rate, its legacy issues especially surrounding the Mairía Cahill case, as well as the Slab Murphy case.  

    Adam will talk over the heads of his opponents to his own base who completely ignore the criticisms others may make.  


  • 21:02
    Joan hits the balance in government argument straight off the bat - central to Labour's election pitch.
  • 21:04
  • 21:04
    Much the same from Kenny: FG has a long term economic plan to keep the recovery going and make life better for everyone in Ireland, he says. "Keep the recovery going."
  • 21:04
  • 21:04
    FK: Kenny lays the "long term economic plan" groundwork. Slightly arrogant to suggest the only question facing voters is he one FG is framing...  
  • 21:05
    "We need to put aside the rehearsed slogans," says Martin.
  • 21:05
  • 21:06
  • 21:06
    As expected, Adams mentions 1916 in his opening sentence. "We want to deliver on the promise of the 1916 proclamation," he says, adding that this is the first time the electorate can choose a progressive government.
  • 21:06
    FK: Adams  immediatley mentions 1916 and peace process. Seems SF happy to appeal to its core vote only.  
  • 21:08
    Pat Kenny invites the Taoiseach to talk about his taxation policies. Every worker in the country will be better off at the end of "the programme", says Kenny.
  • 21:08
    FK: Kenny mentions Labour in his first answer. Will be interesting to see if Joan Burton attempts to create some differences with Kenny tonight. Labour needs to be somewhat distinct.  
  • 21:09
    "The Taoiseach will be €12,000 better off and all those in the upper echelons will be better off," says Adams, adding that Sinn Féin's first priority will be to get rid of water charges.
  • 21:10
    FK: Adams accepting the Department of Finance figures for the fiscal space - €8.6 billion net. Whatever is said during the debate, all parties are now playing on the same pitch re the fiscal space.  
  • 21:11
    Adams goes on to attack what he considers the Governments poor record on social housing.
  • 21:12
    Martin says his party's policies will benefit working families. He promises USC cuts, DIRT cuts, childcare tax credits.
  • 21:12
    FK: FF believes pensioners are there to be won back from Fine Gael, hence Martin making the play for the grey vote.  
  • 21:13
    Pat Kenny puts it to Burton that her party is at odds with the platform that Fine Gael is campaigning on.
  • 21:14
    FK: "People will not make up their minds in this election until polling day," says Burton. That's the great white hope of the Coalition - the 'better the divil you know' swing will save it in the end.  
  • 21:15
    Burton promises to abolish USC for anyone earning up to €72,000. She criticises Gerry Adams for "fuzzy Sinn Féin economics that is a job killer".
  • 21:15
    FK: Only a matter of time before they all gang up on poor Grizzly Adams, most likely on security. But Burton and Kenny go for SF on its "fuzzy economics".  
  • 21:17
    Kenny goes for Adams now. His message is clear enough: Fianna Fáil have wrecked the economy in the past, Sinn Féin would wreck it in the future.
  • 21:18
    FK: Seems even an earthquake will not move Enda Kenny from Fine Gael's lines. One of those is there will be no economic growth - and therefore fiscl space - if SF/FF in power. That's what they call "message discipline".  
  • 21:18
    FK: The crisis "gentlemen" is over, says Burton. A not to subtle reminder that she is surrounded by men in suits.  
  • 21:19
  • 21:19
    FK: Kenny wants to talk about tax. Martin wants to talk about services. That's basically the entire campaign, folks.  
  • 21:20
    They've moved on to health now, specifically accident & emergency waiting times.
  • 21:22
    FK: Now on health. It should be comfortable terrain for Martin and Adams. Govt record on it not good, to say the least.  
  • 21:22
    We have vastly improved the fair deal where someone can get a place in hospital within four weeks and that means we can free up more beds, says Burton, defending the Government's health record.
  • 21:23
    FK: Universal Health Care is one of our pillars, says Kenny. Definitely not Universal Health Insurance.
  • 21:25
    On health, Kenny admits there's "a great deal of work to be done there" and "regrets" that the Government hasn't been able to end the trolley crisis. He steers things back to the economy, saying a strong economy is necessary for healthcare reform.
  • 21:25
    FK: Kenny acknowledges his broken promises in health. Getting spiky now between Martin and Kenny. This debate is underlining the fact that no matter what FG says, they see FF as the main threat.  
  • 21:25
    Micheál Martin lists the Government's failings in health amid plenty of interruptions from Kenny.
  • 21:27
    Adams says Sinn Féin believes you should be looked after according to your health needs, not your wealth. "We are for a universal healthcare system," he says.
  • 21:28
    FK: In line with the SF campaign, Gerry Adams goes for the populist line on health. Money put into the banks instead, etc
  • 21:28
  • 21:28
    FK: Not quite sure if this aggression suits Martin. Allows Kenny to stay above it, but then Martin has to attack.  
  • 21:29
    Martin levels more criticism at Kenny: "You appointed James Reilly for Health. That was the biggest mistake you made."
  • 21:30
    Burton criticises Adams for "lecturing to the three of us" and then affords Martin a small bit of credit for aspects of his record.
  • 21:31
    FK: Descending into squabbling now about Roisin Shortall. Martin v Kenny in danger of turning people off with their bickering. Looks like two men in a bar edging towards a fist fight.  
  • 21:33
    We can't have a health service that people aspire to without a strong economy, says Kenny. That's his message tonight. A break now with crime coming up in a couple of minutes.
  • 21:33
    FK: Gerry Adams getting slightly left behind in this debate. But crime and security will swing the focus straight onto him.
  • 21:34
  • 21:37
    FK: The spin starts, from Kenny's camp: "I don't think M Martin was expecting a passionate and attacking E Kenny. Has thrown him a bit."  
  • 21:38
    And we're back. Adams pinning crime problems on Fianna Fáil for closing the Templemore Garda training college.
  • 21:39

    FK: Adams straight on the defensive re Special Criminal Court, attempts to deflect the question onto question of resources. "I don't back away from our position on the Specical Criminal Court," he says.  

  • 21:39
    "I don't back away from our position on the Special Criminal Court," says Adams. SF want to close it but Pat Kenny suggests that's because some of the party's friends have been before it in the past.
  • 21:40
    FK: The rest of the leaders allowing Adams the room here to squirm. Nobody jumping in as Pat Kenny questions him on SCC.  
  • 21:41
    "All of this is a distraction from the core problem that there is a crisis of confidence out there among a lot of citizens," says Adams.
  • 21:42
    FK: Burton now swinging the attack to FF on issue of closure of Templemore. Enda Kenny nods, no sign of the two Coalition partners maintaining anything but a united front.  
  • 21:43
    Burton trumpeting the Government's record on policing, saying the coalition reopened Templemore and brought 1,100 gardaí into the force.
  • 21:44
    FK: Burton displaying all the tactics she uses against SF in her weekly leader's questions jousts with Mary Lou McDonald. Burton hears the part of the question/quote she wants and twists her answer to her advantage.  
  • 21:45
    "Fairy tales by Joan Burton," Adams counters before moving on to Kenny who he says has yet to give a credible explanation for his part the debacle that brought about the resignation of Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
  • 21:45
    FK: And now Martin joins in the pile on on Gerry Adams, questioning if he wants Kangaroo Courts instead of the SCC. "Correct," says Enda Kenny in agreement.  
  • 21:47
    "We will not go into government with Sinn Féin because of the reasons I've just outlined there," adds Martin.
  • 21:47
    FK: Adams must dearly want the debate to move on now. "Stop waving your finger at me," says Burton to Adams. Nobody does faux indignation like Joan...
  • 21:48

    Kenny finds some common ground with SF: "I agree with Deputy Adams that Fianna Fáil closed down Templemore."

  • 21:48
    FK: Kenny on strong, FG 'law and order' ground here.  
  • 21:50
    FK:  Somebody just send Enda Kenny and Micheal Martin out to the car park to have it out
  • 21:52
    FK: All well and good for Kenny to Shinnerbash, but the question of garda resources is a sore spot for the government.  
  • 21:52
    Kenny attacks Martin on the Fianna Fáil government's record on providing new squad cars. "You let them drive around in their own cars. Clapped out vehicles with no communications." Harsh enough on the gardaí involved, in fairness.
  • 21:53
    FK: Now on to the eighth amendment - Kenny and Martin to dodge, Burton and Adams to commit to repealing.  
  • 21:54
    "We should depoliticise it," Kenny says of the Eighth and speaks up the merits of a "citizens' convention" on the issue. That's no good to a woman who needs an abortion right now, says presenter Colette Fitzpatrick.
  • 21:55
    FK: Kenny trumpeting the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill. Major fudge on the eighth - not going to give a direct answer. He won't give his own position.  
  • 21:55
    FK: And now for more of the same from Michéal.....
  • 21:56
    Martin dodging: "I actually think the slogan 'Repeal the Eighth' is too simplistic for a general election."
  • 21:57
    FK: Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on the same page on the eighth. Too simplistic to simply repeal, it must be considered carefully.  
  • 21:59
    Burton, who has previously stated she wanted to see the amendment repealed, now dodging questions on what she thinks of prospective coalition partners Fine Gael's position on abortion.
  • 21:59
    FK: Joan Burton gives the Labour position - a referendum on fatal foetal during the next government. That's probably the most likely thing to happen after FG's citizens' convention, if the Coalition returned to office.  
  • 22:01
    A quick break now, next they'll be talking about where you live, apparently.
  • 22:07
    FK: Housing a major weak spot for the government. Expect Kenny to talk about supply, but not sure if that argument will get much purchase after five years in government.
  • 22:08
    Burton now continuing in the government's rich line of blaming its woes on Fianna Fáil: The biggest housing crisis has its roots in the decision by Fianna Fáil to end the tradition of local authorities building social houses.
  • 22:08
  • 22:08
  • 22:10
    FK: Kenny looks disinterested on this topic, he needs to interject or it will look like he doesn't care. Bottom line so far: this debate won't change anyone's mind.  
  • 22:10
    Martin saying his party didn't end social housing. "We built 14,000". He goes on to attack the coalition on the homeless crisis amid sustained interruptions from Burton. "You haven't listened over the last three years," he says to her.
  • 22:11
  • 22:11
  • 22:11
    FK: Still no word from Enda Kenny. Oh, wait - he speaks!
  • 22:12
    FK: Enda Kenny' silence coming over like a reluctance to engage. Very messy now.  
  • 22:13
    Burton and Martin just shouting at each other now. Pat Kenny intervenes: "I'm listening to this five [four?] way at the moment and if I can't understand it what chance do the people at home have."  
  • 22:14
    Adams says: "Citizens in a republic have rights and that includes the right to a home and the State has the responsibility to provide that home."
  • 22:15
    FK: And finally Kenny speaks. As predicted, he talks about supply issues. FG firmly believes the solution is to build more homes, the reason for shooting down Alan Kelly's rent certainty proposal.  
  • 22:16
  • 22:17
  • 22:17
    "We've changed the building regulations, we've dropped the levies in Cork and Dublin," says Kenny, claiming the Government is moving on the issue. "They're not moving on it," says Martin.
  • 22:17
    FK: "Where are ya now," says Micheal Martin to Kenny. Back to the two of them shouting at each other.  
  • 22:18
  • 22:19
    FK: Now on to the coalition question. Watch Michéal wriggle. Watch Enda Kenny try to say Ff will jump into bed with Sf.  
  • 22:19
    Micheál Martin now appears to be dodging the question "who do you think will be in government?"
  • 22:20
    FK: Martin blocks off Kenny's line of attack by saying he is not going into govt with Sinn Fein.  
  • 22:21
    Adams says Martin made FF irrelevant and that Labour sold the people out.
  • 22:21
    FK: Adams says Martin and FF "irrelevant". I think the testiness of the exchanges between Kenny and Martin proves that's not true.  
  • 22:22
    "There is a fault line in this debate tonight that runs down the middle of the studio," says Burton, effectively saying it's Labour and Fine Gael versus Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil.
  • 22:22
    FK: "Myself and the Taoiseach got 140,000 people back to work," said Joan Burton. They need to watch that - the public will not thank FG/Labour for taking all the credit for the recovery.
  • 22:24
    FK: Enda Kenny strikes a different note to Burton by crediting the Irish people for the recovery.  
  • 22:25
    Kenny trots out the "keep the recovery going" line again when the question of a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition is put to him. "Fine Gael and Labour will bring stability," he says.
  • 22:26
    FK: Micheal Martin in that awkward position of tring to lay claim to recovery through Brian Lenihan's policies - yet many austerity policies he criticises the government for were outlined by Lenihan.  
  • 22:26
  • 22:28
    FK: Enda Kenny drops the Project Fear line - things are wobbly worldwide, so stick with us.  
  • 22:28
    Adams criticises the past two government."Give us a chance and we will not make one promise that we won't keep," he says, saying a government could constitute an amalgamation of groups.
  • 22:29
    And that's that. The party leaders reiterate their messages before Pat and Colette brings things to a close.
  • 22:30
    FK: So that's that. A shouty debate unlikely to change anyone's voting intentions. Very much the Kenny v Martin show. The Fianna Fáil leader showed good aggression but the Taoiseach had some good moments too. Until next time, folks....
  • 22:32
  • 22:32
  • 22:35
  • 22:41
  • 22:58

    "Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin put in a forceful performance tonight in the first televised leaders' debate of the general election campaign, during testy exchanges with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

    "During questions on crime and security, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was put under severe pressure by the other party leaders on his call for the abolition of the Special Criminal Court.

    "Saying she did not know what planet Mr Adams was living on, Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton accused him of proposing that the jurors in terrorism and gangland cases should go into witness protection programmes."

    Read the rest of Stephen Collins's analysis of the first televised leaders debate of general election 2016 here.

  • 23:24
  • 23:33

    So the consensus seems to be that Micheál Martin edged it, as he did in the opening debate five years ago. It didn't do him much good then and probably won't now: none of the leaders will have convinced their rivals' supporters to jump ship tonight.

    Many agree that the four-way debate is a fairly unsatisfactory format. It will be interesting then to see how Claire Byrne maintains order on RTÉ next week when Richard Boyd Barrett, Lucinda Creighton and Stephen Donnelly join the fray. We hope you'll join us for that on Monday.