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This monster has to be strangled ... and 7 other things we learned from last night's by-election debate

There’s no escaping the issue of Irish Water right now, and all of the candidates had strong opinions to express on the subject. All expect one, that is…

WE’RE JUST THREE days out from Friday’s Dáil by-elections.

At the start of last week the ten candidates duking it out to take Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan’s recently vacated seat in Roscommon-South Leitrim packed into the Prime Time studios to face a grilling from Miriam O’Callagan. 

Last evening, the ten hopefuls competing to take over from Flanagan’s fellow-MEP Brian Hayes in Dublin South West faced a similar treatment from David McCullough.

Once again, water charges and what should be done about them featured high on the agenda. The issue has dominated debate in the area throughout the campaign — and it was also at the centre of a spat between two of the leading candidates at the weekend.

Here’s what we learned from last night’s showdown…

1. There’s just no getting away from the issue of Irish Water… 

Front-runner Cathal King of Sinn Féin was first in the firing line… The long-serving councillor was asked whether his party could give a clear commitment on whether they would abolish domestic charges, if in power.

He insisted that they would, and that they had made their stance on the issue clear “a long time ago”.

However, both the host and Paul Murphy, the former Socialist MEP, pointed out that Sinn Féin appeared to have hardened its stance on the issue in the last few weeks, with McCullough noting that the party’s local election manifesto had only referred to a policy of “opposing the introduction of water charges”.

RTÉ

King insisted…

If Pearse Doherty is the Finance Minister in the next Government, it will be abolished.

However Murphy, running in the Dáil campaign under the Anti-Austerity Alliance banner, insisted King’s opposition to the charges was “weak”.

RTÉ

“Why is Sinn Fein not encouraging people not to pay?” Murphy insisted.

The way water charges were beaten in the 1990s was through a massive campaign of non-payment.

2. Fianna Fáil are still getting blamed for things 

Labour’s candidate, Councillor Pamela Kearns, insisted the plan to introduce charges “was brought in by the Troika and Fianna Fáil”.

RTÉ

As you might imagine, the FF candidate had a thing or two to say about that…

Councillor John Lahart said that while the “vast majority” of people in the constituency had been telling him they were willing to pay “as long as it’s a fair system”, Fianna Fáil’s initial vision for the introduction of charges had been a lot fairer.

We agree with water charges, but there was also a fairness principle and I really have to harp on this.

He said that families with adult children in particular were being saddled with unreasonably high bills.

RTÉ

3. “This monster has to be strangled right now”

Nicky Coules, the People Before Profit candidate, had some pretty snappy soundbites on the issue of the night…

[RTÉ]

Expanding on ‘strangled monster’ metaphor, the councillor (and retired plumber) insisted:

People can’t afford the water charges. That’s the beginning and end to it.

Coules is also encouraging people not to pay their bills. Asked by McCullough whether he was simply “leading people up to the top of the hill” and into potential legal trouble, he insisted that he would be “at the top of the hill too” adding…

If there’s a fight I’m there – but it’s going to have to be a fight.

4. There’s “no point” voting for anyone but Colm O’Keeffe

The non-party candidate is running just on one issue: essentially he wants a two-tier system of marriage to be brought-in — an ‘opt out’ version in which people can get divorced and a ‘for life’ version where they can’t.

Asked to weigh-in on the water charges issue, O’Keeffe argued that, as it was a by-election — with just a single Dáil seat up for grabs and comparatively little power — there was no real point voting for any of the other candidates.

Voting for a “single-issue candidate makes more sense” he said…

RTÉ

5. There’s trouble in the Fine Gael family. 

Senator Cáit Keane is the official Fine Gael candidate in the election, while Ronan McMahon – a former FG member who lost out in a bid to become a council candidate for the party – is also running.

After being rejected by fellow members, McMahon went on to claim a seat in South Dublin as an Independent back in May — initially billing himself in the campaign as ‘Independent Fine Gael’.

A row developed between the pair last night as McMahon attempted to further distance himself from his former party…

Cáit Keane and Ronan McMahon [RTÉ]

The now-Independent insisted he had been told by a senior FG member months before the selection convention that he wouldn’t get the nod to become a local election candidate.

He maintained that he let his name go forward – even though he knew he wouldn’t get through – to expose “cronyism at local level”.

Keane, however, insisted that “if Ronan had received enough votes, I know he would have been running under the Fine Gael banner”.

6. There’s also trouble, over on the left-wing…

RTÉ

Tony Rochford, the anti-austerity campaigner, who staged at hunger strike outside the Dáíl last summer, made an interesting contribution as the debate continued.

Asked by McCullough to outline one unpopular but necessary choice he would make, if given power, Rochford contended that “taxes need to be changed”.

People on the dole – and people mightn’t like me for saying this – but some of them are going to have to contribute a little more than they’re contributing

Some people “don’t want to work, they just want to cash” he said.

Murphy and Coules immediately leapt upon his comments, with the People Before Profit candidate insisting “the parasites in Irish Society exist at the top, not at the bottom”.

McCullough also seemed a little surprised at what Rochford had to say…

RTÉ

7. There are other things we should be talking about… 

Declan Burke, a 21-year-old recent graduate and first time candidate, insisted the debate shouldn’t be focused simply on Irish Water.

Intervening to give what was effectively a mini stump-speech, he insisted the area had been under-served by established parties, and that it was time to elect an independent voice to speak up for families suffering as a result of Government policies.

Burke, who recently finished a degree in journalism at Griffith College, is running as a ‘People’s Contract’ candidate — meaning he intends to seek a consensus from constituents on each major issue he’s faced with.

 RTÉ

8. Murphy and Coules are all friends really. 

Murphy said he would encourage anyone who voting for him on Friday to transfer in favour of the People Before Profit candidate.

Would Coules reciprocate that sentiment?

Absolutely yeah.

mp4

RTÉ

Polls open in the two Dáil by-elections at 7am on Friday morning, with the results expected by the following evening.

For the rest of our coverage so far on Dublin-South West, click here. 

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