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7 things we learned from last night's Dublin Prime Time debate

They came, they shouted, they argued and then they all went home.

IT WAS THE turn of Dublin in the last of RTÉ’s marathon series of debates covering all three European constituencies and featuring nearly all the candidates hoping to go to Brussels.

The capital is probably the most competitive of the three constituencies with a real dogfight between the main political parties. Did last night’s exchanges prove crucial ahead of Friday’s vote?

The first debate panel was made up of Fine Gael’s Brian Hayes, Fianna Fáil’s Mary Fitzpatrick, Labour’s Emer Costello, independent Nessa Childers, Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan, and the Socialist Party’s Paul Murphy.

Green Party candidate Eamon Ryan, People Before Profit’s Bríd Smith, Fis Nua’s Damon Matthew Wise, and Raymond Whitehead and Tom Darcy from Direct Democracy Ireland made up the second half debate.

In the unlikely event of you having had something better to do last night, therefore missing this unmissable debate, here’s a round up of what happened…

 1. It was Brian Hayes v Lynn Boylan 

One of the biggest rows of the night erupted between the Sinn Féin and the Fine Gael candidates, both on course for a seat each, but both at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Hayes claimed SF’s pre-Budget proposals last year weren’t costed properly and were done through a series of parliamentary questions, but Boylan held up a letter which she claimed said otherwise. Hayes stuck to his guns and there was a bit of shouting.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 21.56.26 Source: RTÉ

Boylan clearly had Hayes on her mind, so much so that at one point she referred to the chief executive of Bank of Ireland, Richie Boucher – and his €840k salary – as ‘Richie Boucher-Hayes’.
https://vine.co/v/MHDqqpTZPzh

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 22.14.25 Source: RTÉ

Maybe she was thinking of this fella?

2. Paul Murphy v Emer Costello

While Labour MEP Costello stuck to the coalition message of the economy recovering and 70,000 jobs being created in the last three years, Socialist incumbent Murphy went after the JobBridge initiative amongst other things and said he hadn’t forgotten what James Connolly had stood for.

Later, when Costello tried to interrupt Murphy she was rather angrily shot down with the Socialist shouting across the studio: “Excuse me, I’ll finish!” There was certainly no love lost between them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 22.17.38 1 Source: RTÉ

3. And Bríd Smith v Eamon Ryan 

The second half debate was, frankly, dire, but the two candidates who are likely to win the most votes out of the five on Friday had a few interesting exchanges.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 22.27.50 Source: RTÉ

Green leader Ryan’s contention that the problems that led to the crisis were already there when his party entered government was given short shrift by Smith who more than once went for Ryan on his record in government.

She also briefly forgot Brian Hayes’s second name in a rare moment of humour:

4. The fringe candidates were really fringe candidates 

As we said already, the second half debate wasn’t good and while Damon Matthew Wise had some useful, albeit cliche laden, soundbites the contributions of the two Direct Democracy hopefuls, Raymond Whitehead and Tom Darcy weren’t great.

Whitehead pretty much admitted that his party was realistic to know they wouldn’t take a seat, but Darcy’s long, complicated claim about taking a case about banks to the gardaí was hard to follow even for the moderator:

5. It was hard to talk about Europe

Time and again, as much as they tried to sway the focus to European issues it kept coming back to the bread and butter of what’s happening here.

There was the aforementioned lengthy row over last year’s Budget, Childers talked about the housing crisis (admittedly linking it well to the “unsustainable debt”), water was the subject of a lengthy contribution from Mary Fitzpatrick, while even Brian Hayes talked about working with Michael Noonan.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 22.04.49 Source: RTÉ

Candidates know that while as much as they might like to talk about what actually goes on in Brussels, it’s having their say on the issues at home that helps win votes.

6. The format just didn’t work

It’s been an underlying and recurring theme of the last three nights, but last night was particularly bad as the second half debate descended into boredom and mediocrity with poor David McCullagh looking like he was just trying to make sure all the candidates got a fair amount of time.

RTÉ’s insistence on including everyone was admirable, but setting down strict criteria for who appeared in what debate really detracted from the quality of some of them. It would have been better to put all the candidates together and draw lots.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 22.37.00 Source: RTÉ

7. Who won the battle of the moderators? 

Take nothing away from McCullagh and Miriam O’Callaghan, both excellent Prime Time presenters, but Claire Byrne shades it for us. She wasn’t afraid to throw a few curveball questions, challenge candidates on their answers and, most importantly, she let the candidates actually debate, rather than overly worrying about the stopwatches.

Yesterday: 7 things we learned from last night’s Ireland South Prime Time debate

The day before: 7 things we learned from last night’s Midlands North-West Prime Time debate

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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