As it happened: The final Leaders' Debate of the 2016 general election

It’s make or break time for the four main party leaders.

AFTER TONIGHT, THERE’S just one more day on the airwaves for politicians. ’Thank God’, says you.

It means that tonight’s RTÉ Prime Time debate is one of the last chances the four main party leaders have to put their case forward before Friday’s general election.

In short, if the gloves are going to come off, tonight’s the night to start swinging.

Miriam O’Callaghan is the woman in the middle.

Evening all! Welcome to’s coverage of tonight’s big four-way debate from Montrose. Rónán Duffy here for the evening to give you the blow-by-blow of what’s going on and what people are talking about.

Political Editor Hugh O’Connell is in the bowels of RTÉ to see what’s going on behind the scenes, catch him at @TJ_Politics.

Our resident QI Elf-wannabe Dan McGuill will be testing statements by all four leaders to see if anyone’s telling porkies. It’s part of our GE16 FactCheck series that you can check out here.

If you want to get in touch, leave a comment or tweet myself @ronaduffy_ or our News Editor @SineadOCarroll.

Tonight’s the big one.

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The leaders have been arriving at RTÉ ahead of tonight’s 9.35pm start-time.

Eager to get going, Labour leader Joan Burton was the first to arrive, saying she expects a ‘fair and tough debate’.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin was next, saying he is ready to lead the next government.

Third, Taoiseach Enda Kenny came along and looked like he was going to bypass the media.

He changed his mind though for a quick word, saying he’s done more debates than any other sitting Taoiseach.

Gerry Adams arrived at RTÉ by bus the last time out. No sign of such an entrance this time as he arrived last of the leaders.

He says he’s enjoyed been out and about listening to voters over the last few weeks, sore back aside.

The all-important standing positions.

From left to right (physically not politically) we have Gerry Adams, Enda Kenny, Micheál Martin and Joan Burton.

A lovely set up for Enda and Micheál to get nice and cosy with one another, they might have to soon enough.

It’s worth noting of course that were are missing some leaders tonight.

At last week’s Claire Byrne moderated debate, AAA/PBP, The Social Democrats and Renua were all represented. They’re not here tonight.

Neither are the Green Party, who’ve been left out of three debates now.

The polls have been coming even thicker and faster in this election compared to previous years, but there’s certainly been a pattern.

Fine Gael have been roundabout the 30% or higher mark for the last year or so.

Now, after some wobbles in the last week, they look to have steadied to the ship a tad.

Fianna Fáil will be happy with with how things went in the last two debates and another strong performance from Micheal Martin tonight would make things very interesting.

Gerry Adams and Joan Burton might feel as if they’ve some work to do tonight.

So if you want to know tonight’s state of play according to the pollsters, a Paddy Power/Red C poll published today placed them on the following.


In fairness to RTÉ, very few do a better slow-mo montage.

Prime Time kick-off tonight with some dramatics.

montage RTÉ Player RTÉ Player

Miriam, ready to boss proceeding, tells leaders to debate but ‘not talk over each other’.

She begins by asking Enda Kenny was there some ‘arrogance’ in their Keep The Recovery going slogan.

It’s a good observation, they’ve stopped saying it in the last few days.

Kenny says he accepts that every household isn’t feeling a recovery yet.

To the point, from the wannabe Taoiseach.

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The Tánaiste pushed on rent supplements says that they plan to spend €4 billion on social housing.

Adams is getting a number of follow-up questions from Miriam, presenter says he is ‘all at sea’ with finances.

He rejects this.


Our first FactCheck of the evening.

1,000 families left homelessness last year – Joan Burton

Verdict: Half TRUE, number was 2,000 individuals.

The Department of the Environment’s Social Housing Report for 2015 found that 2,000 people had left homelessness last year.

There is no breakdown of how many of those are families, and 1,000 probably overstates the case.

Gerry is having a bit of a ‘mare here.

When Enda Kenny accused him of not protecting ‘Senator Cahill’, he asked the Taoiseach,

Who’s Senator Cahill?

The Taoiseach was of course talking about abuse victim and Labour Senator Mairia Cahill.

It’s all been very quiet so far, little or no interaction between the leaders.

Gerry has a bit of a stumble while trying to outline his party’s policies on health.


Speaking about consultants, he follows it up by asking Miriam if she earns over €100,000. She nods.

He made the same ploy against Brian Dobson last week too, it didn’t really come of this time either.

The debate has turned to mental illness.

Miriam asks Tánaiste how the government has only spent 6% of the health budget on mental health given the problem of suicide.

Tánaiste defends by saying people want schools for their children, she then turns to Adams accusing him of going abroad for healthcare.

Adams was ready for this, says he’s answered a ‘million times before’ and that the procedure he needed wasn’t available on the island of Ireland.

‘It didn’t cost the taxpayer anything,” he adds.



The number on trolleys and in wards today is highest on record – Micheál Martin.

Verdict: FALSE

The number today was 511, the number on 9 February was 539. We’re not sure how literally Martin was speaking, though.

According to the INMO, the numbers on trolleys and in wards is up by 8% since 2011, 40% since 2012, 37% since 2013, and 21% since 2014.

They’re onto USC.

Miriam asks the Taoiseach directly whether it’s fair that a couple earning €150,000 will benefit from their proposed USC cut three times more than a couple earning €40,000.

Kenny repeatedly says, ‘everyone will benefit’.

Frustrated, Miriam tells that Taoiseach that he’s obviously ‘not going to answer’

There’s a creak in the studio, and it’s not their policies. Twitter is now distracted.

Can you hear it?

Miriam is now going all Stateside by accusing the Taoiseach of that unforgivable sin of ‘flip-flopping’ on the USC.

Sinn Féin have ‘flip-flopped’ too she adds.


Enda Kenny, who’s been very quiet so far, has now turned his attention to jobs.

He says his party ‘know how to create 100,000 jobs and they now want to create 200,000 jobs’.



Michael Noonan once said USC was never intended to be temporary – Miriam O’ Callaghan

Verdict:  TRUE

On 16 December 2014, Noonan wrote, in response to a PQ from Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin:

I should point out that it was never intended that the USC would be a temporary measure. The USC was designed and incorporated in to the Irish taxation system as part of its permanent structure and the revenues collected play a vital part in meeting the many expenditure demands placed on the Exchequer.

We’re onto a break. Miriam suggests we should all go away for a cup of tea.

Something stronger might go down well, is it just us or is this pretty boring so far?

Creakgate aside of course.

Homelessness kicking-off part two. Miriam puts it to Tánaiste that just 28 social houses were built last year.

Burton says this is unfair and not completely correct, that more people have been homed through increased building, and 13,000 through ‘social renting’.

Burton adds that 1,000 families left homelessness last year.


Sinn Féin introduced a bill to abolish the USC – Miriam O’ Callaghan

Verdict: TRUE

On 29 March 2011, Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty introduced a private member’s motion to “abolish the Universal Social Charge,” and added:

The universal social charge, therefore, is little more than a working poor tax. The new charge disproportionately affects certain sections of society. It hits low income workers by significantly shifting the tax burden away from high earners and onto those on lower pay.


Enda Kenny on homelessness:

Supply is the key issue here. The more you can build, the more you can house people.

Oh, and in case you didn’t notice. The creak is gone. But not forgotten.




More than 1,000 social housing units were built by local authorities last year – Joan Burton.

Verdict: Very, very FALSE.

Miriam O’Callaghan was right to say 28 social housing units were built by local authorities last year, but figures are only available for the first nine months of the year. Including voluntary and cooperative houses, there were 246.

She was also right to say social housing construction by local authorities more than halved between 2008-2010.

For full details on this issue, check out this article

Quick poll, Who is winning the debate so far?

Poll Results:

 Michéal Martin (2038)
 Gerry Adams (926)
 Enda Kenny (876)
 Joan Burton (277)

Enda Kenny is defending the Central Bank’s mortgage rules (kind of):

The intention is right but at the wrong time.

He says he hope it is reviewed.


They’re talking about cronyism. Miriam brings up McNultygate to the Taoiseach.

Enda: It’s all changed.

“What I did was make an appointment that didn’t need to be made.”

‘You may have a scoop here.’

Adams correctly points out that this is the first time Enda Kenny has admitted that he had a hand in the appointment of John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art.



13,000 families were placed in social housing in 2015 – Burton.

Verdict: Half-TRUE, 13,000 is the number of tenancies agreed.

The Tánaiste appears to be using “families” liberally again.

The Department of the Environment’s 2015 report found that 13,141 tenancies had been agreed on social housing units.

No breakdown of families or individuals was offered, so we can’t provide a number of families, but they did not make up 100% of the tenancies.

For the first time in three debates, leaders are talking about climate change.

The question is whether there is a battle between our dairy herd and our CO2 emissions.

It’s fair to say everyone is being light on specifics.

A final question, interview style. What is your biggest regret?

Martin says it’s being part of the ‘consensus’ in the previous Fianna Fáil government.

Joan Burton talks for a minute but didn’t answer on her biggest regret.

Enda Kenny says it’s being ‘slow’ on some issues like the Magdalene Laundries.


Gerry’s final thought:

‘We’ve a chance of a real peaceful Rising this Friday.’


Joan Burton speaks to the wrong camera and that’s pretty much the most exciting part of each of their final thoughts.

Well that’s that.

It was pretty low key for the final debate of the election, they didn’t really go for each other and perhaps just wanted to make sure they didn’t make any mistakes.

Did they succeed?

We’ll have a summary of exactly what went down coming up on the site soon, but if you can’t wait RTÉ is in the ‘Spin Room’. Our Hugh O’Connell among them.

Good night from me and I hope tonight helped make up your mind a little.

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