The seven leaders of Ireland’s largest political parties went toe-to-toe this evening – here’s how it all panned out.
Well that was a very quick couple of hours.
The marquee debate between all seven leaders has left a lot of talking points, but not many clear winners.
The Social Democrats’ Stephen Donnelly will probably be the happiest, although in truth all the smaller parties did well.
There weren’t too many issues for the large parties, although having said that not much happened that will have improved their standing either, something Labour definitely needed to happen.
Here’s the full debate, as and how it happened at the University Concert Hall, Limerick.
Good evening and welcome to TheJournal.ie‘s liveblog of the second leaders’ debate of the 2016 general election.
This time round it’s the turn of RTÉ, who will have seven party leaders present for tonight’s debate in Limerick, moderated by Claire Byrne, which kicks off at 9.35pm.
Cianan Brennan here writing to you from HQ in Dublin. Our Political Editor Hugh O’Connell will be tweeting his analysis from @oconnellhugh and @tj_politics and he’ll have a full round-up after the debate concludes. Aoife Barry will be providing an alternate slant to proceedings from TheJournal.ie‘s main Twitter account @TheJournal_ie, and our scourge of the ill-conceived political statement Dan MacGuill will be on hand with FactChecks throughout the evening.
And if all that’s not enough you can tweet me @ciananbrennan with your thoughts on the night’s action.
Will tonight’s many-leadered debate be a relatively tame affair? Or will we see something akin to the below? Only time will tell.
Leaders have been drifting into the University Concert Hall in Limerick over the last hour or so, with Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin the first to arrive.
Renua’s Lucinda Creighton is also present and correct, and says that her strategy for the evening is to “be myself”. Interesting.
Before we get stuck into the debate proper, we’ll take a brief moment to remember Fianna Fáil councillor Joe Crowley who passed away earlier this evening while canvassing.
One party that won’t be taking part this evening is of course the Green Party, who earlier went to the High Court to try and turn tonight’s debate into an eight-way affair.
The party currently have no TDs with RTÉ denying them their application to take part as a result. Their High Court action was earlier rejected.
There’s a lot at stake tonight. Very little movement was seen in the polls following last Thursday’s debate with few if any punches landing on that occasion.
That is a bit of a problem for the government. Fine Gael and Labour would be back in power following the election with each other if they had their preference. Unfortunately if the polls are to be believed the coalition won’t be returned as Labour won’t have enough TDs entering the 32nd Dáil.
One of the biggest problems for the coalition is that in many tight constituencies they are in all likelihood in direct competition with each other which isn’t ideal.
It seemed during Thursday’s debate however that the only coherent united force was still Fine Gael and Labour.
Meanwhile, tonight is the smaller parties’ chance to get stuck into the debate and to create leverage and opportunities for themselves once the election is done.
Or will they take aim at each other? Renua would dearly love to score some points over the Social Democrats you would imagine.
One thing’s for certain, Lucinda Creighton vs Enda Kenny could be one of the highlights of tonight’s debate.
One thing we do know is what order the various leaders will take: from left-to-right it’ll be: Richard Boyd Barrett (People Before Profit), Gerry Adams (Sinn Féin), Micheál Martin (Fianna Fáil), Enda Kenny (Fine Gael), Joan Burton (Labour), Stephen Donnelly (Social Democrats), Lucinda Creighton (Renua).
Are you excited yet?
So, let’s play some debate bingo. Which of these issues/phrases are we going to hear about tonight?
- Fiscal Space (curiously absent from the last debate after dominating the first week of the election)
- Gangland Crime
- Housing and the homeless situation
- Water charges
- The dreaded “keeping the recovery going”
For what it’s worth, our money is on the word recovery being used at least a couple of hundred times this evening. Although probably not by the opposition. Anyone want to keep count?
You have to admit it would make things interesting.
Caption competition time.
What we really want to know is whether the gentleman in the mirror is sporting one of those man-bun things?
Four minutes to go folks!
Will Claire be able to keep a tighter rein on the leaders than Pat Kenny and Colette Fitzpatrick managed last Thursday? There really was a lot of finger-pointing going on that night.
Well, she’s got three more leaders to deal with so she may have her work cut out.
Here we go, the stage is set, let battle commence.
If that’s anything to go by Claire Byrne is going to be jumping on speakers all-evening long, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She’s just banned the phrase ‘fiscal space’! But Richard Boyd Barrett had already said it so you’re still good if you had it on your bingo card.
Leave the jargon out says Claire.
First question is from on Pierse Duggan who wants to know why we should believe anything our political parties are saying.
Enda is first up. He looks a little… nervous maybe?
“We’re in a much safer position than we were,” says the Taoiseach.
Claire interrupts him mid-sentence. She wants to know about the abolition of USC.
Sound the recovery klaxon! The Taoiseach has just said “we must keep the recovery going” for the first time tonight.
Social Democrats leader Stephen Donnelly is having his introductory spiel now.
He doesn’t want to touch the USC Claire suggests?
“It’s a necessary tax for a stable tax base,” says Stephen.
The economic storm clouds are gathering, we all can see that.
Now Renua’s Lucinda Creighton:
“We’re proposing a flat rate of income tax,” she says.
This has really been a little dull so far.
Fianna Fáil’s leader is up next.
“The fact of the matter is Fine Gael now represent the biggest threat to the economic recovery,” he says.
We want to reduce USC, particularly for those on low incomes.
And now the Tánaiste:
“If there’s anything to be wary of it’s what the people of Fianna Fáil did to the country to wreck it.”
For every €1 of USC reduction we will provide €3 of spending and investment into the public services that people need, and into getting people back to work.
And here’s Gerry Adams to land the first zinger of the evening – he’s just described Enda, Joan and Micheál as the “Three Amigos”.
He reckons that Fine Gael have been “magicking up figures”.
Gerry has also gone for the jugular with a discussion of Fine Gael’s miscalculations of the infamous fiscal space.
But he didn’t use the phrase “fiscal space”. Devious.
Enda is not to bothered about this, and in rejoinder goes after Micheál Martin again, this time on the subject of mass emigration following the crash.
There really are a lot of people on this stage, but everyone is being quite courteous at present and letting everyone else talk.
They may have to split into smaller groups and have conversations among themselves at this rate – we’ve only got an hour and a half after all.
Just as we say it, the Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin leaders have turned on each other.
It’s one round of applause each as they discuss the Sinn Féin leader’s alleged IRA connections, and Gerry counters that Micheál’s party ruined the economy.
A second question from the audience. The gentleman asking it (whose name we missed, sorry), wants to know what the various parties will do should they come to power to stimulate business and employment in rural areas.
In response, Joan Burton says that her party has reopened the Garda college in Templemore.
Stephen Donnelly up now.
“Irish businesses can’t access the kind of funding they need,” he says.
What you do is reduce the cost of living. We have some of the highest insurance costs, childcare costs in the world.
Donnelly seems quite keen on pushing his economic ideas in a calm, considered way tonight. He needs a crash course in finger-pointing so he does.
Lucinda Creighton has the floor.
She’s talking about the situation with social insurance for SMEs and the self-employed.
“They don’t have the same advantages as PRSI workers,” she says.
And a second one for you:
“Labour pledged to reduce student fees, then increased them” – Micheál Martin.
In 2011, Ruairi Quinn signed a pledge to reverse a Fianna Fáil-imposed increase in the student contribution charge, then €1,500.
After becoming Education Minister, Quinn and his successor Jan O Sullivan oversaw annual €250 increases in the charge, to its current level of €3,000.
For more detail, check out this article.
Time for our first FactCheck of the evening, which concerns the Tánaiste’s claims re Garda numbers.
There are already 1,150 extra Gardaí on the streets since Templemore was re-opened -Joan Burton
The Tánaiste made a similar claim in last week’s debate, but the numbers simply do not add up.
In answer to a parliamentary question earlier this month, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald stated that, since the re-opening of Templemore Garda training college in 2014, 550 new Garda trainees had been recruited.
She added that 296 of those 550 recruits were now stationed throughout the country.
Last year’s budget provided for the additional recruitment of 600 trainees by the end of 2016, but that recruitment has not actually taken place.
So the Labour leader’s claim that there are “already 1,100 new Gardaí on the streets” really ought to be “We now have 296 new Gardaí, 254 recruits in training, and an additional 600 expected to enter training by the beginning of 2017.”
Richard Boyd Barrett is up and he gets the first round of applause offered in anger.
Joan counters to not great effect.
Stephen Donnelly is now hitting out at the “faux outrage” being expressed on stage and around the country for nurses, doctors and guards.
“Compare that with the red carpet rolled out for Donald Trump buying a golf course by our Minister for Finance,” he says.
“I didn’t meet Donald Trump myself,” sniffs Enda.
Gerry Adams and the Taoiseach are now having words. Unfortunately for the Sinn Féin leader he doesn’t quite get his point across after tripping over his words and Claire steps in to take another question from the audience.
This one comes from Sharon who wants to know what’s going on at Ennis hospital.
In response, Micheál and Enda clash over broken promises when it comes to health services. There’s a bit of back and forth between the two. Enda thinks Micheál is “talking rubbish”.
Lucinda Creighton takes up the reins.
“There are so many layers of bureaucracy and middle management in our health service,” she says.
“But health stumps everybody?” says Claire.
“I disagree, we have to change strategy,” Lucinda replies.
Change the approach, bring the parties together, create consensus, and let’s have a 20-year vision, not a five-year one.
Time for another FactCheck from Dan. This one concerns whether or not Micheál Martin denied that Ireland needed a bailout in 2010.
In 2010, Micheál Martin said Ireland wouldn’t need an EU bailout – Kenny.
In a September 28 interview with Bloomberg News, Martin stated:
“By and large we are very confident we’ll come out of this. Clearly it’s challenging and so on, but there’s no necessity for the triggering of such a mechanism.”
It could just be us, but it feels that the the three leaders of the smaller parties are making their points far more effectively than the four mains, who seem more concerned with scoring points against each other.
Richard Boyd Barrett is up now – he’s enthusing about the National Health Service in the UK, though he acknowledges that the NHS isn’t a perfect system.
“You close down or downgrade the local A&E services and within a year you have chaos,”he says.
We warned Minister Varadkar about this.
It’s another round of applause for RBB.
“I’d be the first to admit that we haven’t achieved all that we wished to do,” says the Taoiseach in response.
“Are we citizens with rights, or do we not have rights,” says Gerry Adams.
What Richard just described happened in my constituency too.
FactCheck number four – did Micheál Martin cut 3,000 Garda positions?
Micheál Martin cut 3,000 Garda positions – Gerry Adams.
Verdict: FALSE, but a butchered version of last week’s claim, that 3,500 Garda positions were lost between FF and FG/Labour. We rated that claim Half-TRUE, because it ignored parallel recruitment of new Gardaí.
The governments didn’t “get rid” of the positions, but from 2007-2015, there were a total of 3,577 departures from An Garda Síochána, most of which came from voluntary retirement.
So Adams is correct in stating the combined number of Gardaí who left the force during the tenures of the last Fianna Fáil-led government, and the outgoing Fine Gael/Labour one.
However, this obviously doesn’t take into account recruitment.
During Fianna Fáil’s time in government from 1997 to 2011, there was a net gain of 2,926 in Garda strength. During the tenure of Fine Gael and Labour since 2011, there has been a net loss of 1,078.
Joan thinks Stephen Donnelly is speaking in “management consultant talk”.
I can actually hear a stack of reports forming now,” she says. Zing
I would defy anyone to tell me that our A&E services are entirely bad.
“Remember Róisín Shortall Joan?” says Micheál.
She chose to leave the Labour Party because James Reilly wanted to look after people in his own constituency.
“All we’re hearing now…” begins Joan in response.
“All we’re hearing now is nothing,” says an impatient Claire. The audience love that.
Joan and Claire are now on a proper collision course.
“Would you mind answering the question Joan?” Claire says after something of a laborious Burton monologue.
Scenes reminiscent of Mary Lou McDonald to the Tánaiste at Dáil question time.
We’re now over an hour into the debate. Who on earth is winning?
Answer: no-one seems to know. Claire is doing a good job though.
We’re onto rent allowance now.
Time for another FactCheck – has the government really put “tens of millions” into rent supplement? This one isn’t good reading for Joan, who isn’t having a great debate tonight at all.
The government has “put tens of millions extra into rent supplement” – Joan Burton.
Verdict: Very FALSE.
Total spending on rent supplement dropped by 40% from 2011 to 2015.
The number of individuals on rent supplement also dropped 36.7% during the same period.
“There are mums and dads who are tonight putting their kids to bed in the back of cars,” says Stephen Donnelly.
Donnelly wants a new housing agency.
Claire wants to know what the Taoiseach makes of the housing and homelessness problem.
“We have two kinds of homelessness in this country. We’ve the rough sleepers, who are on the streets and if they want a bed they can have one, that’s no problem,” says the Taoiseach.
He doesn’t say who the other kind of homeless person in Ireland is though.
There were 3,000 ghost estates when government came into power, there are now 600 – Enda Kenny.
Verdict: Almost entirely TRUE.
The number of unfinished housing developments going into 2010 was 2,846.
The number going into this year was 668.
Well holy God – we’re an hour and a half in and we’ve just hit our first commercial break.
Tiiiiiimmeee for another FactCheck: this concerns a statement Gerry Adams just made about Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s respective records on health workers and beds.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael lost 7,500 health workers and 1,600 beds – Gerry Adams
Verdict: Almost entirely TRUE
From 2008-2014, acute beds dropped by 1,643, from 12,123 to 10,480.
From 2008-2015, the number of staff in the health service dropped by 7,377, from 110,903 to 103,526.
This may be the highlight of the night so far, Claire Byrne dealing a spectacular smackdown to the Taoiseach and Tánaiste who had started talking as one:
We’re back from the commercial break, and now we’re onto rural crime. What do the seven leaders plan to do about it, an audience member asks.
“I represent a rural constituency, and people are afraid they’re going to be burgled in their homes,” says Gerry Adams. He wants to reinstate rural Garda stations.
Lucinda speaks of her “Three Strikes and Out” rule – ie a life sentence for someone convicted three times.
“This is about serious criminals being taken off our streets,” she says, her strongest speech of the evening.
We make no apologies for saying so.
“Stephen Donnelly – you’re not really interested in crime are you,” asks Claire.
“We most certainly are Claire,” replies Donnelly, keen as they come.
But first things first we have to acknowledge that we have a first-rate police force.
“We need more gardaí, that’s what the force is saying,” says Donnelly, much of whose rhetoric this evening has concerned talking to “the people” and seeing what they need.
“We’re going to have endless amounts of guards if we continue as we are this evening,” snaps back Claire.
FACT CHECK: Government has closed 139 Garda stations – Gerry Adams.
Last week, Adams claimed 140 had been closed, and we corrected it. Someone at Sinn Féin HQ obviously reads the FactCheck.
Crime was always going to be a central part of this debate given the recent spate of brutal gangland killings.
What does Richard Boyd Barrett think?
“I’m interested in trying to deal with crime, by taking young people away from crime, by giving young people options,” he says.
“What about crimes that are happening tonight?” says Claire. She isn’t letting this go and she has Boyd Barrett backed into a corner, the least comfortable he’s looked all night.
“This is taxpayer’s money you’re talking about here,” she persists.
This is something we missed, and boy is it worth seeing:
If you can’t view the video click here
We’re onto our final question, and this one concerns 1916. 1916 klaxon!
Not really, it’s a sneaky way for this fellow to ask will Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil get into bed together in the next government. Now that’s a question.
Enda isn’t biting though. “We want the stability of returning the government that is in office, that is Fine Gael and Labour,” he says.
Fianna Fáil, they ruined our economy says Enda, they are not credible in government, and they don’t deserve to be in government.
“So you will absolutely not be going into government with Fianna Fáil?” asks Claire.
“Absolutely not, absolutely not,” shouts Enda.
Now then, that sounds pretty definitive. So if not Fianna Fáil, who is it going to be?
“The civil war was a long, long time ago,” Micheál offers helpfully.
“THANK YOU GENTLEMEN,” Claire roars when the two party leaders won’t stop bickering.
It’s all chat now about who’ll be in government and who won’t be. The key difference really between this one and the last debate in that no one present then wants to go into power with anyone else, apart from Fine Gael and Labour naturally. This time round there are people from parties who have their options open.
“We will only enter government if we see big changes when it comes to politics and accountability in this country,” says Lucinda Creighton.
“So you’re open to offers then,” clarifies Claire.
Gerry raises his hand. He wants to talk.
“And sure why wouldn’t you,” says Claire.
“I want the three amigos here to ride off into the sunset,” says Gerry with a big grin.
Three Amigos klaxon! It might catch on you know.
“Let’s get this crowd out,” Gerry finishes.
Richard Boyd Barrett denies that a vote for him is a vote for opposition.
“We deserve another term to continue our work,” claims Joan.
“Stephen Donnelly, who will you go into government with,” asks Claire world-wearily.
“I think Claire, that a vote for Labour – they are the only European left-wing party advocating a vote for a conservative, right-wing government,” the Social Democrat replies.
“We won’t be anyone’s mudguard in government I can promise you that,” he adds.
Here’s the second to last of our FactChecks for the evening for you to digest in the post-debate afterglow.
FACT CHECK: 300,000 jobs were lost under Fianna Fáil – Enda Kenny
Mostly TRUE but depends on what measure you use.
Net job losses from 2007-2011 were 437,202.
The number of persons employed dropped by 268,800 from 2007-2011.
For more details, check out this article.
It’s final message time – where did those two hours go?
The Taoiseach recovers his composure and says “it’s time to keep this recovery going”.
Lucinda Creighton says that Renua plan “to keep our promises and tell the truth”.
“We want to build a stronger, fairer and more prosperous Ireland. If you want more than what the establishment has to offer, please vote for the Social Democrats. Every vote matters,” says Stephen Donnelly, who has been one of the stars of the show tonight.
The Eighth Amendment makes its first entry via Richard Boyd Barrett who says he wants it repealed.
“Compre Labour’s vision of hope and optimism, and then contrast with the opposition’s ideas based on despair,” says Joan.
“Tá sé in am vótáil d’Shinn Féin,” says Gerry Adams (I think, apologies if I have got this wrong).
And suddenly it’s over. Claire wishes us all a fond farewell, and cut to credits. That was a very swift couple of hours indeed.
David McCullagh is up next on RTÉ One to discuss the fallout from tonight’s debate.
So what do we make of all that then?
On reflection it seemed quite a messy affair, which was perhaps predictable given the sheer number of voices on stage.
If you think of what was truly memorable from tonight, the kind of thing that might swing an election, there wasn’t all that much to choose from.
There was no over-riding gaffe, and most of the squabbling ended with just one winner – Claire Byrne.
Perhaps Lucinda Creighton’s ultra-strong push of her party’s policy on crime. Stephen Donnelly and Richard Boyd Barrett seemed to have the audience very much on side.
If we’re being honest, there didn’t seem to be that much to choose from between the leaders of the larger parties, apart from perhaps the Labour leader. Joan Burton had a tough night at the office is our feeling.
If one of the fundamentals for the government was to give a boost to the ailing Labour party its hard to see how that boost was provided tonight.
That is perhaps reflected in a Twitter straw poll just carried out by @thejournal_ie:
Our other poll at presents shows the Social Democrats as the best-performing of the smaller parties:
Our final FactCheck for this evening from Dan MacGuill – did 250,000 people leave the country under Fianna Fáil?
FACT CHECK: 250,000 people left the country under Fianna Fáil – Enda Kenny
Verdict: Partly TRUE – ignores the fact that Fianna Fáil oversaw significant net inward migration.
Kenny also made this claim last week, although then he framed it solely in terms of youth emigration. We rated that claim only “Partly TRUE”, by the same rationale as this week’s claim.
Here are the facts:
From 2007 to 2010, Fianna Fáil’s last term in office, 236,700 people did leave Ireland. But 380,100 also entered the country.
From 2011-2015, under this government, 419,500 people have emigrated, while 291,800 came in.
So Fianna Fáil oversaw net inward migration of 143,400, while Fine Gael and Labour have overseen net outward migration of 127,700.
We’re going to wrap things up here after a long night of political intrigue.
Hugh has just come up with the nine things you need to know about tonight’s debate if you fancy some more political chat before bed, while a thorough fact check by Dan on tonight’s claims and counter-claims will be up on the site before long.
And that is pretty much that. Thanks everyone for your company this evening, hope you enjoyed the debate. Aaaaannd… sleep.