by-election battle

Broken promises and invisible candidates: Here's what we learned from last night's Prime Time debate

Someone ‘pulled a Ming’ and the issue of Roscommon Hospital just isn’t going away… Here’s what went down in the RTÉ studios last night.

THERE ARE TEN candidates in the running to take the Roscommon-South Leitrim Dáil seat vacated by recently-installed MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan in Europe.

Some — like long-serving Sinn Féin councillor Martin Kenny and Labour’s John Kelly — are experienced political operators. Others — like Fine Gael’s Maura Hopkins and Strokestown Independent Emmet Corcoran are relative newcomers.

All of the candidates hoping for success in next week’s Dáil vote made the trip to the RTÉ studios last night for a Miriam O’Callagan-hosted debate.

As expected, issues at the centre of politics in the region — like water services and the closure of the Roscommon hospital’s Emergency Department — got more than a few mentions.

There were also a few surprises along the way…

Here’s what we learned:

1. RTÉ has done away with its ‘two stream’ debate format

The national broadcaster came in for serious criticism from independent candidates during the European elections. One hopeful in that race, you may recall, even staged a sit-down protest in the studio during the North West constituency debate — and had to be dragged out of the studio.

There was no repeat of that scenario last night, with the candidates all lined up in a single row. They drew lots to decide who would stand where, Miriam explained, before kicking off proceedings.


2. The main parties all took a hammering on water. 

Fine Gael’s candidate – Hopkins – talked up the fact that householders with water that’s unfit for drinking will be handed a discount on the ‘water supply’ portion of their bill. Fianna Fáil’s Ivan Connaughton, a councillor and local auctioneer, contended that his party would have addressed problems in the supply system before “even thinking” about bringing in charges.

Senator John Kelly, of Labour, said the water system should have been fixed during the Celtic Tiger period (though, oddly, he pronounced ‘Celtic’ with a soft ‘c’ — like the football team — which is a new one on us).


“Down the road things will improve,” Kelly said.

There’s no doubt about it.

Senator John Kelly [RTÉ]

2. It took a while before the Independents got a look in…

Miriam let the candidates from the two government and the two opposition parties go at it for a while before bringing in some of the non-party hopefuls.

That meant we were at the 20 minute mark before someone did this…

It was bound to happen, wasn’t it?

Crosby said the Government had created a “monster” in Irish Water.

3. The ‘Ming’ legacy looms large…  

The outspoken Independent may have his feet firmly under his new desk in Brussels. But he was mentioned several times in the course of the debate.

Michael Fitzmaurice, one of the front-runners in the campaign, is the Flanagan-endorsed candidate…

Fitzmaurice suggested using fresh water from the River Shannon to boost supply in the constituency.

If you can bring water half-way across America. I’m damn sure you can bring it to Roscommon — or to Leitrim.

The current charges system means the Government isn’t giving people “enough water to wash themselves” the turf-cutting association chief said. 

4. The issue of the closed emergency room just isn’t going away. 

Taoiseach Enda Kenny made a pre-election pledge to “protect and defend” the Emergency Department at Roscommon County Hospital back in 2011.

The facility was subsequently closed, and Fine Gael TD Denis Naughten ended up leaving the party over the issue.

The FG hopeful in the race this time out faces an uphill battle as a result of her party’s handling of the issue in recent years.


Here’s what she had to say on the subject last night…

“Roscommon A&E is closed and it won’t be opening in the future.

“But Roscommon Hospital is very much opened and at present — as you mentioned — there is a €6 million endoscopy unit currently under construction.

“There is a rehab service planned. That will be a satellite service to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, working with stroke patients.

I know that this will be crucial not only for the people within Roscommon but also for people within the west of Ireland.

As you might imagine, her response didn’t get an overly-positive response from John McDermott, the Roscommon Hospital Action Committee candidate (he’s the chap who was involved in the scuffle last Friday)…


John Kelly (of Labour) said he agreed with McDermott that the way the emergency room was closed was “done wrong”.

“But you’re a member of this Government,” Miriam reminded him.

“We don’t have the health ministry Miriam, and you know that.” he responded…

I was campaigning strong prior to the last election on retaining services at the A&E at Roscommon.

Connaughton, the Fianna Fáil candidate, said he would work to ensure the re-opening of the Department was on his party’s manifesto for the next General Election.

5. Des Guckian felt invisible… 

We were at the 35 minute mark before the Independent managed to get his spoke in for the first time.

“I feel I must have been invisible for the last 15 minutes,” he opined.

Guckian — who was elected to Leitrim County Council back in May — said the Government’s handling of both the hospital issue and of Irish Water had been a “disgrace”.

He entered the campaign primarily to highlight the dangers of fracking, he said — warning that use of the hydraulic technique in the area would have an effect akin to letting off an “atomic bomb”.


Gerry O’Boyle — running under a ‘Land League West’ banner — had also been pretty invisible until this point

The Castlerea man hopes to highlight the issue of home repossession, as the campaign progresses.


6. The John McNulty Affair got a mention…

The main political controversy of the day was bound to come up, and attention switched back to Maura Hopkins and the main parties as Miriam asked the Fine Gael candidate to explain the events surround the The McNulty Affair.

Some of the Independents weren’t happy with the focus on the issue.

“It’s not fair play. This is typical RTÉ policy,” Gerry O’Boyle complained.

From Miriam:

Gerry, to be fair — that was a huge national issue.

“Let them deal with the Seanad issue down the line,” O’Boyle responded.

I’m here to deal with the issue of family homes… Family homes — you don’t even think about it!

7. The Sinn Féin candidate’s hoping to capitalise on the drift away from FF/FG…

The rise of ‘Ming’ in the area in recent years has coincided with a drift of support away from the old Civil War parties… With Fianna Fáil still reeling from their electoral wipe-out of three years ago, and Fine Gael the main party in a Government that’s presided over a raft of unpopular decisions, Martin Kenny attempted to paint himself as the rational alternative choice.

They don’t look after the farmers — they look after big business.  It’s the same thing, whether its Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael in power. This election is a choice between the politics of the past — the politics of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael — or a new and different way forward.

Martin Kenny [RTE]

8. One candidate wants to resurrect Decentralisation… 

Remember the disastrous Fianna Fáíl policy?

Tom Crosby wants to bring back a version of it. Though he insists:

My plan is totally different. And we put a lot of research into it. There can jobs put in from the public sector to every town and village in the constituency of Roscommon and Leitrim.


Emmet Corcoran, another Independent, insisted however that the policy was nothing short of “economic quackery”.

*     *     *     *     *

Voters in Roscommon-South Leitrim go to the polls on 10 October.

The Prime Time debate for the Dublin South West by-election takes place next Monday night.

Read: How’s the ‘Ming’ by-election shaping up?… We hit the trail in Roscommon-South Leitrim

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