Fianna Fáil deputy leader Mary Hanafin denied her party was pulling a 'political stroke' by delaying the bank recapitalisation. PA

Deputy Leaders clash over nurses, Irish and economy

A Deputy Leaders’ debate sees Mary Hanafin, James Reilly and Joan Burton discuss the economy and other issues.

THE DEPUTY LEADERS of the three main parties have this morning debated issues including the state of the economy and the bank guarantee, student nurses and the Irish language.

In a half-hour debate on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fianna Fáil’s Mary Hanafin, Labour’s Joan Burton and Fine Gael’s James Reilly disagreed on whether Irish should be a compulsory subject of the Leaving Certificate, and whether the delay to the bank recapitalisation was a political ‘stroke’.

Hanafin also said that, if she was to find herself out of cabinet after the general election, she would claim her ministerial severance payment if that was what the current arrangements provided for.

On the topic of the minimum wage – which both Labour and Fine Gael have pledged to restore to €8.65 per hour if elected – Reilly said he felt it was unfair to target the country’s lowest-paid workers in an ineffective move to promote job creation.

Burton said she felt it was “quite possible to sit down at industry level” and to negotiate agreements with employers on topics like pay for overtime and for Sundays, though Hanafin insisted that the minimum wage cut – like all measures the government had pursued – was intended to rescue job creation.

Discussing yesterday’s announcement that the Department of Finance had decided to delay a €7bn recapitalisation of the banking sector until after the election, Reilly rejected accusations that his finance spokesman Michael Noonan had simultaneously welcomed and criticised the delay.

Fine Gael felt the decision to delay the latest capital injection was “prudent” for AIB, but was not so in relation to Bank of Ireland, and accused Fianna Fáil of “running away” from the issue.

Hanafin denied that, however, and said the delay had been agreed with the EU and IMF before it was announced. The government could equally have been criticised, she said, if it had pushed through the recapitalisation in the days shortly before an election.

On Irish, meanwhile, both Hanafin and Burton said their parties opposed the abolition of the subject as a compulsory requirement for Leaving Cert students, while Reilly defended himself on the subject of student nurses’ pay, saying a Fine Gael government would ensure nurses got at least some reward for their time.

The full debate can be heard on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland website.