The Irish elections

FG leader makes no major slip despite FF pressure

Prime Time presenter Miriam O?Callaghan with the three main party leaders, Micheal Martin of Fianna Fail, Enda Kenny of Fine Gael and Labour?s Eamon Gilmore before the debate last night. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Prime Time presenter Miriam O?Callaghan with the three main party leaders, Micheal Martin of Fianna Fail, Enda Kenny of Fine Gael and Labour’s Eamon Gilmore before the debate last night. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

STEPHEN COLLINS, HARRY McGEE and MARY MINIHAN
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny came through last night’s televised debate without any major slip but he was put under serious pressure by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, particularly on the issue of taxation.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore performed consistently throughout the debate and presented a more positive image of his party’s policies than he managed so far in the election campaign.
Mr Martin was much more aggressive than the other leaders, reflecting the desperate battle his party is now facing for survival. He frequently interrupted the other two, particularly Mr Kenny, as the debate wore on.
As the front runner going into last night’s RTÉ Prime Time debate Mr Kenny had the most to lose. He started well but as the debate got into its stride he was pressured constantly by Mr Martin.
Mr Kenny pointed to the Fianna Fáil leader’s record during 14 years in Government, particularly during his period as Minister for Health. He said the Government had talked about “turning the corner” and “green shoots” but Ireland had a debt level which was “an obscenity” and he accused Mr Martin of being “full of wind and spoof”.
During one testy exchange, Mr Martin said to Mr Kenny: “I know what you’re going to say again. ‘Fourteen years, I’ve a five-point plan, let’s get Ireland working.’ We need a bit more than that now Enda in terms of the future of this country.”

When questioned about the detail of the party’s policy Mr Kenny responded by referring to the Fine Gael website. “It’s all there on www.finegael.ie

Speaking after the debate, Mr Martin said he had achieved his objective of “exposing the absence of detail” in Fine Gaels five-point plan. Mr Gilmore said he was happy he got the chance to “kill off” the “black propaganda” in relation to his party’s stance on taxation and the public finances.

Speaking after the debate Mr Kenny noted the Labour Party newspaper advertisements critical of Fine Gael had stopped. “They now understand the relevance of the five-point plan.”

The debate began with an opening statement from the three men and then went on to debate a wide range of issues including the EU-IMF bailout, the public finances, job creation and health.

The EU-IMF deal was first on the agenda. Eamon Gilmore said the plan had put a straight jacket on any future government which will drive down economy.

Mr Gilmore said the incoming government was “going to face the biggest mess that any incoming government will face.” He described Anglo Irish Bank as having been “a piggybank for property developers. It was tied to Fianna Fáil.”

Mr Martin said the IMF-EU deal could not be renegotiated unilaterally, saying he would employ “intelligent diplomacy” to secure a better deal. Mr Kenny said Mr Martin was a member of a Government that could not tell the truth about the deal.

Before yesterday’s debate, all the parties made a final push to win support before the rest of the country votes on Friday.

Fine Gael promised to publish a “jobs budget” within 100 days of going into government that would result in the creation of 100,000 jobs by 2015. Speaking at the launch of the party’s youth manifesto in the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin Mr Kenny said the party’s strategy would boost employment prospects for young people.

Mr Gilmore insisted yesterday there was no question of coalition talks with Fine Gael taking place ahead of polling day but he pointed to common ground between the two parties on many issues. He repeated his warning about the prospect of a single-party government and said that a coalition that included Labour would be “more fair and balanced”.

Warning against support for Sinn Féin, United Left Alliance and Independent candidates, he said: “The outcome of such a vote would mean the election of a single-party Fine Gael government.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said his party was targeting the “very significant” number of undecided voters in the final days of the campaign.

The parties will begin their last full day of canvassing before the traditional broadcasting blackout on election coverage begins at 2pm tomorrow.

Mr Gilmore has a packed day of canvassing in Tipperary, Dublin, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow while Mr Kenny will be in Malahide, Baldoyle and Donaghmede before travelling to Monaghan town for an outdoor soapbox speech and on to Letterkenny.

Elsewhere Mr Martin plans to appear on two morning radio shows and carry out several engagements in Dublin, Louth, Kilkenny and Tipperary before returning to the capital.

He will later try to round up support in Mullinavat and Carrick on Suir.

The Greens will be canvassing in central Dublin while Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, will join party colleagues on the campaign trail in Wicklow and Dublin.


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