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Ireland South debate: Carbon tax and EU army dominate as nine candidates battle it out ahead of Friday's vote

Nine candidates took part in the Sunday night debate on RTÉ One.

The debate on Sunday evening
The debate on Sunday evening
Image: RTE

NINE OF THE candidates running for the European Parliament in the Ireland South constituency clashed on Sunday night on Irish neutrality and carbon tax, during a debate that saw no figure emerge dominant in one of the tightest races of the European election.

With Sinn Féin’s Liadh Ní Riada the only incumbent MEP taking part in the debate on RTÉ One’s Prime Time programme, tonight offered a chance for other candidates to make an appeal for voters’ support.

With polls suggesting that Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher TD, Independents4Change candidate Mick Wallace and the Green Party’s Senator Grace O’Sullivan are all battling it out with the three sitting MEPs to be elected in the five-seater constituency, tonight offered a useful survey of where each stood on the various issues the election campaign has thrown up.

Climate change dominated the first half of the debate, with the candidates attempting to navigate questions on the tensions between growing Ireland’s farming industry and curbing climate change.

Andrew Doyle, as Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, bore the brunt of the scrutiny from host Miriam O’Callaghan and his fellow candidates, as he found himself arguing that increasing of the national herd could be combined with sustainable climate practices.

While Doyle found support in surprising places, with Kelleher also suggesting that reducing the size of the national herd shouldn’t be treated as a “simple, easy solution” to curbing climate change, they found themselves challenged by Ní Riada and Solidarity-People Before Profit candidate Adrienne Wallace who both argued that a carbon tax had the potential to penalise the poorest in society.

O’Sullivan was the most critical of current government policy on climate change, but found herself defending the suggestion that cutting the size of the dairy industry in Ireland would cause job losses in the sprawling Ireland South constituency.

Mick Wallace and independent candidate Diarmuid O’Flynn both strongly rebutted the suggestion that the current rate of corporation tax was essential to Ireland’s economy.

A clear divide was discernible on the prospect of an EU army, which has been a recurring theme in the campaign, with both Kelleher and Doyle largely dismissing concerns over Pesco – the EU’s permanent structured cooperation arrangement – and praising the benefits of greater security cooperation.

Ní Riada, O’Sullivan and other candidates were more explicit in arguing that the prospect of a militarised EU was not desirable and could pose a threat to Irish neutrality and Europe’s commitment to peace.

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The nine candidates were chosen by a set of guidelines laid out by RTE. The remaining 14 candidates were offered a one minute video appearance. Of these, 11 accepted and the videos were shown over the course of the programme; one candidate refused; one candidate was uncontactable; and one video was ruled “not to be in compliance with RTE/BAI standards,” according to RŦE

Debates for the Dublin and Midlands North West constituencies are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday evening respectively on RTÉ One ahead of the vote on Friday. 

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