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7 things we learned from last night's Midlands North-West Prime Time debate

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

THE FIRST OF three RTÉ Prime Time debates featuring almost all of the European election candidates took place last night with Midlands North-West hopefuls getting their turn.

Thirteen of the 14 people running in the vast, 15-county constituency turned up for the debate which was not without its controversy beforehand with the format earning the ire of independent hopefuls Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Rónán Mullen.

The duo were part of the second panel of night, but felt aggrieved at being excluded from the first which was made up of sitting MEPs and those with parties or independents with 10 per cent support or more at the last election.

Panel one was Labour’s Lorraine Higgins, Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy, Fine Gael’s Mairead McGuinness and Jim Higgins, Fianna Fáil’s Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher, and independent Marian Harkin.

Panel two was Direct Democracy Ireland’s Ben Gilroy, Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne, the aforementioned Ming and Mullen, the Green Party’s Mark Dearey, and independents TJ Fay and Mark Fitzsimons.

And here are a few things we learned in case you were in bed/doing something better…

1. Almost everyone targeted the Sinn Féin candidate

Matt Carthy is a big favourite to take a seat in MNW and for that reason alone the other parties were keen, at every opportunity, to have a pop at him particularly after he reeled off the standard Sinn Féin spiel about the current crop of MEPs pursuing “an austerity agenda”. He even held up a copy of the party’s “fully-costed” pre-Budget submission.

Lorraine Higgins said the SF’s policies made her “smile” while McGuinness went for an old favourite, telling Carthy: ”Your form of negotiation is almost to put a gun to the head of people… ”

Even Marian Harkin had strong words for the Monaghan councillor saying he was “trying to wrap the austerity flag around him”. But Labour’s Higgins, whose chances of winning a seat are slim, had a go several times, “He’ll be outside the room, while I’ll be in the room.” She even said she’d met Martin Schulz. But how many voters know who he is?

2. Water, water, everywhere

In a constituency which includes Roscommon, where in some parts they might end up paying for undrinkable water, it’s no surprise that H2O was a big issue. It formed the basis of Katie Hannon’s pre-debate report and was the first question.

Nobody seemed particularly happy about the situation. McGuinness, of Fine Gael, bemoaned the fact Ireland had in the past ignored a bunch of EU water directives and conceded that nobody should pay for water people don’t drink.

Lorraine Higgins said Labour had got fairness out of the water deal. The opposition criticised the setting up of Irish Water, Carthy in particularly pivoting back to his anti-austerity message.

3. Names were dropped, policies were discussed

The crop of current MEPs tried their best to talk about the work they did. We heard about banking union – or, as Harkin put it: “Closing the stable door after the horse has bolted” – while Pat ‘The Cope’ discussed fishing policy. Jim Higgins talked about leaving politics at the door and sticking on the “green jersey”.

Both he and McGuinness talked about how great Michael Noonan is while Higgins said he’d met a commissioner who no one’s ever heard of and had written to Joan Burton about the youth guarantee.

Ah but has she written back enquired debate moderator David McCullagh? “I’m waiting for an answer,” poor Jim admitted.

4. The inclusion of two Fine Gael candidates in the first debate was a mistake. 

Having two MEPs from the same party on the one panel was slightly pointless and that became all the more apparent in the second half when there was no government representative. Mullen claimed this would have sent most people off to bed.

Fitzsimons said at one point in the second debate: “You have a lot of people on the same side here, there’s no mix-up in it.” He was right.

5. The format of the debate came up 

Mullen launched into a long criticism of RTÉ for the way they’d constructed the debate. He took “exception” to the structure and earned the applause of at least two other candidates. “You should have drawn lots,” he told Miriam O’Callaghan before at one point accusing her of “listening to the voices in your head”. Maybe he meant her producers.

6. Nigel Farage made an appearance

Miriam was keen to probe DDI candidate Ben Gilroy’s past praise of controversial UKIP leader Nigel Farage and sure enough Gilroy was only to happy to say Farage calls it as he sees it.

Later he described Farage as a “lone soldier, but a strong voice” admitting he could well allay himself with the outspoken MEP in the next parliament.

7. There were plenty of odd and funny moments 

Marian Harkin called David McCullagh “Donagh” while Thomas Byrne made the startling admission that ”the past happened, absolutely.”

For no particular reason, Ming gave Gilroy pure evils when the latter was talking about the national debt.

While Gilroy described Pat ‘The Cope’ as Pat ‘Can’t Cope’ and at one point referred to “ethnically cleansed fish”.

Whatever they are.

The second debate features Ireland South candidates an is on RTÉ One at 10.35pm tonight. 

On The Trail: 9 odd, weird and wonderful things from Election 2014

Keep up to date: All things Election 2014

Read: Spending cuts and immigration policy main issues in EU Commission presidency debate

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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