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Dublin: 10 °C Wednesday 19 February, 2020


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FOR THE FIRST time since the general election was called, we were treated to all four leaders of Ireland’s largest parties being in the one room together. 

Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, Micheál Martin and Gerry Adams went at it in the TV3/Newstalk Leaders’ Debate. Colette Fitzpatrick and Pat Kenny were on hand to provide questions and to ensure they didn’t go all Conor McGregor on each other. 

They did last longer than 13 seconds…

Good evening! And welcome to‘s liveblog of the first leaders’ debate of the 2016 general election.

It’s Sinéad O’Carroll here, working away in our main HQ. Meanwhile, Political Editor Hugh O’Connell is in Ballymount at TV3′s much-lauded Sony HD studio. You can catch him on Twitter @TJ_Politics for the pre-game warm ups.

Our Deputy Editor Christine Bohan will also be bringing you the big stories (and some of the craic) on‘s Twitter @TheJournal_ie.

giphy Source:

As I just mentioned, Hugh is in studio waiting patiently for kick off (it seems I’m already all-in on the sporting analogies tonight).

He has just informed us that Gerry Adams has arrived (in style).

That’s all four leaders safely in the building.

In case you haven’t been watching TV3′s promotions for this debate (more on that later), the moderators tonight are Collette Fitzpatrick and Pat Kenny.

We’re sure all of you are as excited about Pat’s return to the small screen – after his departure from UTV Ireland – as we are. But we did enjoy this from one of our commenters who is obviously referring to Enda Kenny’s longstanding refusal to take part in any show in which Vincent Browne is involved:


Aside: This is the first time we’ve set eyes on TV3′s Red Rock.


The auld lad? With the young one? Ah, that’s a lot for us to wrap our heads around pre-debate.

Back to the real world… kind of.

Gerry Adams has been answering Hugh’s questions:

1. Why did you bring the bus?

2. Why were you late?

3. Are you nervous?

His answers?

So, TV3 were understandably excited to land the first four-way between Kenny, Burton, Adams and Martin – four full days before the state broadcaster brings them all to Limerick for Claire Byrne Live.

Colette Fitzpatrick was literally running around the studio earlier while Pat Kenny was using football analogies of his own.


She eventually found Pat, who said:

This is like a football match, I mean the manager or coach may have the grand plan and then the other team don’t play according to the rules. So we don’t know what to expect – that’s what I love about live television. It’s unfolding before us.

Will they come in meek and mild? Will they come in angry? Will they become more agitated as the night wears on? Or are they so tired from canvassing that they’ll put us all to sleep?

He also mused about whether tonight could spell the end for anyone’s aspirations to be the next Taoiseach?

Right, we’re off. The studio does look well, in fairness to them.

Oh by the way, we’ll be keeping an ear out for these words and phrases:

  2. 1916

Lots were drawn to see who goes first but Pat makes clear that all microphones are on, at all times.

It’s ladies first and Joan Burton gets 60 seconds to talk about her working class background. She gets her key message across – Labour is part of that stability we keep hearing about from the government parties.


Gerry Adams starts off with a cúpla focal and tries to take back the word chaos, describing the government parties.

He also gets the first mention of 1916 in, so scratch that off your bingo card.

Meanwhile, Micheál Martin took a sly dig at Fine Gael’s focus-group worked slogans, saying politicians have a duty to focus on issues rather than rehearsed phrases.

And now we’re into question time, starting with TAX.

In 60 seconds, Enda Kenny managed to get ‘keep the recovery going’ in FOUR times. Whatever your politics, that’s pretty impressive.


What? We’re 10 minutes in and there hasn’t been an inch of fiscal space filled?

Even with all this money talk…


The ‘young person’ is central to this debate.

Any ‘young person’ out there? You have been the catalyst for the first bit of argy-bargy between the leaders.

Joan says the job is the most important thing for you – and admonished Gerry for planning to allow your landlord to increase your rent.

Micheál Martin comes in with his “truism”. Governments do not create jobs, he says. They can create the conditions but not the jobs themselves.

Enda Kenny will argue that, given he was in Galway today taking credit for some 175 jobs in Loughrea. He also points to Martin and says that his party drove 250,000 of those young persons out of the country.


DING! DING! DING! FactCheck time.

If you haven’t seen our ongoing GE16 series yet, we have been scrutinising various claims made by political parties and their candidates.

One of our previously checked ‘facts’ has just been used in the debate.


“There were only 28 local authority houses built last year” – Gerry Adams

Well, is that true?


Half-true: 28 is the number built in the first nine months of the year. We don’t have the final figure for 2015.


See here for more details.

Colette has to try shut Joan up as she continues to talk about the economy while she is trying to ask about the healthcare system in Ireland.

She goes to Enda then and everything calms down. As he is known to do, he emphasises his words by pointing, rather than raising his voice.


Micheál Martin, while going at it with Enda Kenny, has patted himself on the back for being the minister for responsible for the successful smoking ban.

Joan concedes he deserves credit for that one.

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And a bit more argy bargy and finger-pointing.

Among all that fighting, we heard the words petty, silly and petulant. No arguments from viewers, we’d say.

Just the three?

Colette and Pat did try to get the four to concentrate on one topic and think of us at home trying to decipher what they’re on about.

Definitely a well-timed break in the broadcast now.


Another fact, another check.

“Fianna Fáil drove 200,000 young people out of the country.” – Enda Kenny


Depends on which Fianna Fáil term he meant, but Fianna Fáil oversaw net inward migration.

From 1997-2010, 276,800 people aged 15-24 emigrated.
From 2007-2010, the figure was 90,600.

However, net youth immigration into Ireland from 2002-2010 was 107,000. The same figure for 2007-2010 was 75,300

Wow, that was quick.

Back in studio now and we’re onto crime and security.

Obviously, the first question is to Adams about the Special Criminal Court. The Sinn Féin leader says his party’s stance on the matter comes from a social democratic position – and not because of any previous convictions of people connected to Sinn Fein.

He points out that Labour had a similar position to them about the abolition of the court.

“That’s a lie, Deputy Adams, that is a direct line,” says an incredulous Joan Burton.


Our Dan MacGuill is on the ball with his FactChecks.

Here’s another on tax rates and the US. 


“Enda Kenny wants Ireland’s tax rates to be on a par with the US” – Micheál Martin.


Mostly true.

In December, the Taoiseach told reporters:

One of the things we have to reach out to is to make personal tax rates competitive with Britain, and with Australia, and with Canada, and with the US.

See more here.

“For a man who is auditioning to be Taoiseach… it is an appalling proposal,” says Joan, speaking about Adams’s claim that jurors could go into witness protection programmes.

He denies saying this. He says he was just listing off ways other countries deal with similar organised crime.

Enda is staying quiet but Gerry is trying to get him to debate the various garda controversies that marred the government’s 2015.

But he’s stuck with debating Martin about past abuses. (Although Enda did politely put up his hand, indicating he might want to speak).

“Go away and catch yourself on,” is Gerry’s best retort to Martin.

It’s getting a bit livelier now.

“I’ve never crawled into the Dáil in my life,” another choice line from Adams after Martin says he “crawled” in to admit that there was historic cases of abuse with the Republican movement.

Oh and Enda is off.

It’s his favourite topic – telling Gerry Adams does not tell the truth. He speaks uninterrupted about the Troubles, gangland crime and the Sinn Féin president’s past.

The next topic is abortion, specifically the issue of women who have been given diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormalities.

After saying it should be de-politicised, he says that it takes time to change laws.

Colette is strong on the questioning here, not letting Enda sidestep on Fine Gael’s position.

“You’re not going to answer the question”? she says, cutting off his rambling.

LOVE/HATE gets a mention. Didn’t really expect that.

Pat Kenny reminds Micheál Martin that they were in government when the RTE drama premiered.

We just fact-checked Pat there, and he’s correct. The first episode of Darren et al aired in 2010.


While the lads avoid the questions on abortion, Joan’s answer is more simple: Yes, Labour will look for a referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

But, she swiftly has to dodge questions about Enda Kenny and Fine Gael’s position, given their cosy positions.

She does so by speaking ‘as a mother and as a woman’.

Enda says he is not uncomfortable talking about abortion, before moving on to words about the constitution, processes and reflecting society…

Pat then asks a difficult but succinct question:

If a constituent comes into your office who is in distress after having an abortion, who do you call first: the ambulance or the police?

Without skipping a beat, Enda says the ambulance.

Another break, another factcheck.


“The government has closed 140 Garda stations” – Gerry Adams.


Almost entirely TRUE. The exact number is 139.

See more here

Next up is housing…

Meanwhile, we’ve been discussing whether anyone is actually winning this debate.

Colette? Pat? Twitter has a different idea…

And there’s Fianna Fáil’s easy win of the night.

She tries to clarify what she meant by that, but didn’t get the opportunity so she’ll be dealing with that for the coming hours.

Colette tries to get Enda to say a few more words on housing, and again, the others are quiet as he talks. Is it his schoolteacher presence?

“You’ve got to build houses,” he says, multiple times.

enda 2

Let’s do this.


“Fianna Fáil built 14,000 social houses, FG + Labour built 1,000″ – Micheál Martin.


Half-true. Gives figures only for local authority housing.

From 2007-2010, 14,035 local authority and 6,345 voluntary and co-operative houses were built. A total of 20,380. From 2011 until September 2015, 1,328 local authority and 2,184 voluntary + co-operative houses were built. A total of 3,512.

“JUST STOP,” Colette almost-shouts.

This is what started that round of screaming.

Most of you at home are not impressed with the leaders’ inability to let each other speak.

Is this bit rehearsed from Enda and Joan?

She splits the room in  half, positioning herself and Enda has a team, telling Gerry to take the snide look off his face.

He gives her a simple Gerry smile back.


After that remark from Joan Burton about Fr Peter McVerry not knowing all the government’s plans to tackle homelessness, the Trust has been tweeting.


Here’s another we prepared earlier.

“The government opened up 2,500 vacant houses last year” – Joan Burton


TRUE, but actually slightly understates the figure, which was 2,696. However, her claim that all those houses are now occupied does not have a verifiable factual basis. For more details, check out this article.

And we’re all done. That was a swift end to a 90-minute rollercoaster ride.

Not a massively illuminating debate. We’re no clearer on the various parties’ stance on the Eighth Amendment or who they’d go into government with.

Hugh’s off now to see how the leaders think they went.

We have one last FactCheck for the night. Going back to something Gerry Adams supposedly said about the Special Criminal Court.


Gerry Adams said juries could go into witness protection – Joan Burton (and others).


FALSE, but Adams may have left his position open to various interpretations. An Irish Independent transcript of last Sunday’s press conference does not show Adams ever explicitly calling for witness protection for juries, and not assenting when that specific proposition was put to him.

Q. So would you put juries into a sort of witness protection programme?

A: There are measures which can be used to deal with all of that …

Q. You said you’d send jurors into witness protection?

A: I said other administrations deal with this issue and deal with criminality of this kind without resource to Special Criminal Courts.

There’s still quite the buzz out in Ballymount as the post-match analysis continues.

Micheál Martin declared himself happy but Gerry declined to answer a question about whether he won the debate, simply asking back: “What do you think?”

There was still time to get one last dig in though.

Enda sticks to chat about TV’s debate-hosting skills after the show, commenting on the ‘ambience of the environment’.

But he also takes issue with how the 90 minutes went down.

We’ll leave it there as Ivan, Mick Clifford and Co. discuss why Micheál Martin was the winner tonight.

Hugh O’Connell will have more for us in the morning, as well Dan MacGuill our resident factchecker.

Next Monday, Claire Byrne is hosting a seven-person leaders debate which will also include Richard Boyd Barrett (Anti Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit), Lucinda Creighton (Renua) and Stephen Donnelly (Social Democrats).

We’ll be back for whatever that brings. We’d recommend earplugs.