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FactCheck: The truth and the lies from last night's RTÉ Leaders' Debate’s GE16 FactCheck had another big night, sifting through seven politicians’ statements.


AS PART OF our GE16 FactCheck series, we’re testing the truth of claims made by candidates and parties on the campaign trail.

If you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right, or see a claim that looks great, but you want to confirm it, email

Last night was Round 2 for the four main party leaders, and the first chance for three others to make their case.

We heard some of the same stuff as we did last week (with a few falsehoods repeated), but there was plenty of new material to keep us busy.

Here’s how we rated an extensive selection of claims.

Promises & Predictions

Irish general election PA WIRE PA WIRE

CLAIM: Labour pledged to reduce student fees, but increased them – Micheál Martin.
Verdict: TRUE

What was said:

Before the last election, everybody remembers that iconic picture of Ruairi Quinn…on the steps of Trinity, signing a pledge to reduce student fees, and he actually increased them by €1,000.

The facts:

In 2011, Ruairi Quinn did indeed sign a pledge to reverse a Fianna Fáil-imposed increase in the student contribution charge, then €1,500.

After becoming Education Minister, Quinn and his successor Jan O Sullivan oversaw annual €250 increases in the charge, to its current level of €3,000.

For more detail, check out this article.

CLAIM: In 2010, Micheál Martin said Ireland wouldn’t need an EU bailout – Kenny.
Verdict: TRUE

What was said:

…Micheál told Bloomberg back in 2010 that it would not be necessary to trigger the mechanism of a bailout….

The facts:

In a September 28 2010 interview with Bloomberg News, Martin stated:

By and large we are very confident we’ll come out of this. Clearly it’s challenging and so on, but there’s no necessity for the triggering of such a mechanism.

Crime and Garda numbers

Shots reported in Tallaght - Dublin Philip Fitzpatrick / PA Images Philip Fitzpatrick / PA Images / PA Images

CLAIM: There are already 1,150 extra Gardaí on the streets since Templemore was re-opened – Joan Burton
Verdict: FALSE. Repeat offence from first debate.

The Tánaiste made a similar claim in last week’s debate, and we thought she may have misspoken, but tonight’s repeat left no doubt about the claim. The numbers simply do not add up.

What was said:

We have, for instance, re-opened the Garda college in Templemore. Already there are 1,150 extra Gardaí on the streets…

Later in the debate, the Labour leader again repeated the claim, saying “We have actually trained 1,150 so far…”

The facts:

In answer to a parliamentary question earlier this month, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald stated that, since the re-opening of Templemore Garda training college in 2014, 550 new Garda trainees had been recruited.

She added that 296 of those 550 recruits were now stationed throughout the country.

Last year’s budget provided for the additional recruitment of 600 trainees by the end of 2016, but that recruitment has not actually taken place.

So the Labour leader’s claim that there are “already 1,150 new Gardaí on the streets” really ought to be “There are already 296 new Gardaí on the streets, 254 recruits in training, and an additional 600 expected to enter training by the beginning of 2017.”

CLAIM: The government has closed 139 Garda stations – Gerry Adams
Verdict: TRUE

What was said:

There were 139 local Garda stations closed.

Last week, Adams claimed 140 had been closed, and we corrected it. Someone at Sinn Féin HQ obviously reads this thing (allegedly).

The facts:

39 Garda stations were closed in 2012, and 100 closed in 2013. For a list of 37 of the 39 closed in 2012, click here. For a list of the 100 stations closed in 2013, click here.

CLAIM: Between them, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael/Labour lost 6,500 Gardaí – Gerry Adams
Verdict: Very FALSE, but almost certainly a butchered articulation of a previous claim, rated half-true last week.

What was said:

This man [Martin] cut 3,000 guards…You [Fine Gael/Labour] cut 3,500 guards…

As Adams tripped over his own words, Micheál Martin rightly observed, “You’ve just disappeared 6,000 guards now, Gerry.”

Adams made the point more cleanly last week, when he stated: “This government and the previous one got rid of 3,500 Garda positions.”

The facts:


The governments didn’t “get rid” of the positions, but from 2007-2015, there were a total of 3,577 departures from An Garda Síochána, most of which came from voluntary retirement.

So Adams is correct in stating the combined number of Gardaí who left the force during the tenures of the last Fianna Fáil-led government, and the outgoing Fine Gael/Labour one.

However, this obviously doesn’t take into account recruitment.

During Fianna Fáil’s time in government from 1997 to 2011, there was a net gain of 2,926 in Garda strength. During the tenure of Fine Gael and Labour since 2011, there has been a net loss of 1,078.

Housing & Homelessness

Ireland Financial Crisis Associated Press Associated Press

CLAIM: There were 3,000 ghost estates when the government came into power, there are now 600 – Enda Kenny.

Verdict: Almost entirely TRUE.

What was said:

When we went into government, obviously you had 3,000 ghost estates…and they’re down now to 600.

The facts:

According to the Housing Agency’s December report, the number of unfinished housing developments going into 2010 was 2,846, and the number going into this year was 668.

So the Taoiseach slightly exaggerated both figures, but the thrust of what he said was absolutely right.

CLAIM: The government has “put tens of millions extra into rent supplement” – Joan Burton.
Verdict: Very FALSE.

What was said:

We have increased rent supplement, regularly…We’ve put very significant – tens of millions extra into the rent supplement, that’s true, Claire…You can actually check the statistics, we increased it.

We did, and the claim is false by a wide margin.

The facts:

This evaluation is based on data gathered from the Department of Social Protection’s Statistics Report for 2014, the revised public estimates for 2015, and a 2 February parliamentary question.

In reality, total spending on rent supplement dropped by €204 million, or 40.6% between 2011 and 2015, and has fallen every year during Fine Gael and Labour’s tenure in government.

The number of individuals on rent supplement has also dropped by 36.7% during the same period, also falling every year in between.

rentsuppl Dept of Social Protection / PER Dept of Social Protection / PER / PER

CLAIM: Joan Burton said Peter McVerry “doesn’t know anything about homelessness” – Gerry Adams
Verdict:  FALSE.

What was said:

This is a government whose Tánaiste says Peter McVerry doesn’t know anything about homelessness.

Burton responded: “That’s a lie, Gerry.”

The facts:

During a discussion on homelessness and rent supplement in last Thursday night’s debate, there was this exchange between co-chair Colette Fitzpatrick and the Labour leader:

CF: Fr Peter McVerry was on radio this week and he said that, while Alan Kelly was listening to him, he said that your department stymied him on rent supplement.
JB: No, because what we do now – and I don’t think Fr Peter is very familiar with what we do…

So clearly, the Tánaiste did not say or even imply that McVerry knows nothing about homelessness, in general.

Equally clearly, though, she did claim that he wasn’t up to date with the Department of Social Protection’s latest practice as regards rent supplement (a major component of housing and homelessness policy.)

Fr McVerry responded the following day, telling Newstalk Lunchtime:

It’s certainly true that I’m not an insider in the Department of Social Protection. They’re not informing me of everything they do but I do see the results of what they do on the ground.

Jobs, the Economy & Emigration

2014 Action Plan for Jobs PA WIRE PA WIRE

CLAIM: 300,000 jobs were lost under Fianna Fáil – Enda Kenny
Verdict: Mostly TRUE, but depends on what measure you use.

What was said:

[Fianna Fáil] ruined our economy, lost 300,000 jobs, a quarter of a million gone away, and so many people do not forgive them for what they did.

The facts:

Net job losses from 2007-2011, Fianna Fáil’s last term in government, were 437,202.

The number of persons employed dropped by 268,800 from 2007-2011.

For more details, check out this article.

CLAIM: The South East has seen the biggest drop in unemployment – Joan Burton
Verdict: Half-TRUE.

What was said: 

The biggest reduction in unemployment…is actually in the South East, believe it or not, which had one of the highest levels of unemployment in this country.

The facts: 

regunempl CSO CSO

The unemployment rate is, in short the number of people out of work as a percentage of the labour force.

The official measure is the CSO’s monthly seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate, but the Quarterly National Household Survey also includes figures on unemployment and labour force, broken down by eight different regions.

Collating these figures, we found that the Border region has experienced the most significant drop in its unemployment rate – from 17.75% in the third quarter of 2012, to 9.25% in the third quarter of 2015 (the most recent figure available).

The South East ranks second by this (relatively rough) measure – with unemployment falling from 20.1% in the first quarter of 2012 to 12.08% in the third quarter of 2015 and 11.93% in the fourth quarter of 2014.

The difference between the figures for the two regions is quite small, and these numbers are not seasonally-adjusted, so allowing for some statistical nuance (which we will investigate), we rate the claim Half-true, for now.

CLAIM: 250,000 people emigrated under Fianna Fáil – Enda Kenny
Verdict:  Partly TRUE, but fails to recognise net inward migration under Fianna Fáil and net outward migration under Fine Gael.

What was said:

[Fianna Fáil] ruined our economy, lost 300,000 jobs, a quarter of a million gone away, and so many people do not forgive them for what they did.

Kenny also made this claim last week, although then he framed it solely in terms of youth emigration. We rated that claim only “Partly TRUE”, by the same rationale as this week’s iteration.

He runs the risk of being confronted with his own government’s record on emigration, should he decide to make the claim a third time, in the next debate.

The facts: 

emigimmig CSO CSO

From 2007 to 2010, Fianna Fáil’s last term in office, 236,700 people did leave Ireland. But 380,100 also entered the country.

From 2011-2015, under this government, 419,500 people have emigrated, while 291,800 came in.

So Fianna Fáil oversaw net inward migration of 143,400, while Fine Gael and Labour have overseen net outward migration of 127,700.

No doubt Fine Gael would argue that emigration under their watch was a result of the residual effects of the 2009 crisis, but the number leaving the country got progressively worse in 2012 and 2013.

For example, net migration was worse in 2013 (-33,100) than it was in 2010 (-27,500).

CLAIM: There are Enterprise Ireland and IDA officers in every county – Joan Burton
Verdict: Mostly TRUE.

What was said:

We have now established Enterprise Ireland and the IDA in every county in Ireland…Now we actually have IDA and Enterprise Ireland officers in every county…

The facts:

There is at least one Local Enterprise Office in every county, although they are not, strictly speaking, Enterprise Ireland or IDA offices.

Enterprise Ireland and the IDA have six and seven regional offices, respectively, throughout the country.



CLAIM: Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael lost 7,500 health workers and 1,600 beds – Gerry Adams
Verdict: Almost entirely TRUE

What was said:

You [Micheál Martin] and the other government parties closed down 1,600 hospital beds and paid off 7,500 health workers.

Adams made a similar claim to this in the first debate, so we checked with Sinn Féin what it was based on.

The numbers on staff are taken from the HSE’s monthly performance reports, and the numbers on beds were taken from the OECD’s Health at a Glance report in 2015.

To measure bed numbers, we’re instead using the official HSE Health in Ireland report, from last year. (Sinn Féin claimed a 1,600 drop in beds, and the HSE measure is almost exactly that.)

From 2008 to 2014, according to the figures, acute beds dropped by 1,643, from 12,123 to 10,480, almost exactly the figure quoted by Adams tonight.

From 2008-2015, the number of staff in the health service dropped by 7,377, from 110,903 to 103,526, slightly less than what was quoted by Adams tonight.

staffbeds HSE HSE

CLAIM: 700/750 extra nurses were hired last year – Enda Kenny/Joan Burton.
Verdict: Almost entirely TRUE. The year-on-year increase in December was actually 844, but the government has lost 1,150 nurses overall.

What was said:

“750 nurses employed last year…750 more” – Enda Kenny
“There was an extra 700 nurses last year” – Joan Burton.

The two coalition leaders might want to get on the same page on this particular statistic, but the thrust of what they each said is broadly right, though they both understated the figure.

According to the HSE’s Health Service Employment report for December 2015 (the most recent available), there were 35,353 nurses employed across the health service that month, which is 844 more than the same time in 2014.

Two things to note:

Firstly, the HSE’s employment reports tend to fluctuate significantly from month-to-month. And secondly, the number of nurses has fallen overall, since December 2010 (three months before coalition took office).

Then it was 36,503. Now it’s 35,353, a decrease of 1,150.

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