Main Party Leaders Clash in TV Debate
Last night Leo Varadkar, Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald exchanged blows with each other in the final major televised leaders’ debate of this election campaign. The party leaders were questioned on their commitments around climate change, housing, health care and the economy. McDonald sought to position her party as the only alternative government that could offer radical change and repeatedly compared Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as two sides of the same coin.
Sinn Féin headed in to last night’s contest knowing its economic policies would be rounded on by both Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar. However, it was matters relating to law and order that proved to be the standout moments in the two-hour debate.
Despite repeated questioning from moderator Miriam O’Callaghan and interventions from Varadkar, McDonald refused to offer her party’s unequivocal support for the Special Criminal Court. The Court has convicted members of the provisional IRA as well as current Sinn Féin TDs such as Dessie Ellis.
It was questions around comments made by the party’s Finance Minister in Northern Ireland, Conor Murphy, regarding an IRA murder victim, that landed the biggest blow to McDonald. The party leader had only the day before said she believed Murphy had never suggested the death of Paul Quinn was connected to criminal activity. However, comments emerged from an interview with the BBC in 2007 which confirmed Murphy had suggested that the 21-year-old victim was involved in smuggling and criminality. The normally assured McDonald stumbled under the questioning and the developments have dominated the news cycle today.
Martin and Varadkar will be relatively satisfied with their performances although they failed to land any killer punches on each other.
What will be the impact of last night’s debate? McDonald’s shaky performance and the growing fallout over Conor Murphy’s comments could halt the Sinn Féin surge. However, much will depend on to what extent, if any, the 35% cohort of 18-34 year olds who have indicated their support for Sinn Féin, will change their vote.
Opinion Poll: Kerry
The third and final constituency poll from TG4 / Ipsos MRBI was published last night which brings good news to Sinn Féin and concern to the Healy-Rae dynasty. Sinn Féin entered this campaign knowing the party would struggle to hold on to its seat due to the retirement of long standing TD Martin Ferris with Fianna Fáil hoping to take a second seat.
This poll shows that Sinn Féin’s Pa Daly could top the poll with 20% of the vote, followed by Michael-Healy Rae also on 20% (Independent), Brendan Griffin 17% (Fine Gael), Norma Foley 10% (Fianna Fáil), Cleo Murphy 9% (Greens) and outgoing Fianna Fáil TD John Brassil also on 9%. Outgoing Independent TD, Danny Healy-Rae (a brother of Michael) received just 4% which puts his seat in danger. However, the Healy-Rae machine is not to be underestimated and we can expect a ferocious effort in the final days to return both men to the Dáil.
On the Campaign Trail
Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar has used media appearances this morning to pile further pressure on Sinn Féin over its approach to the Special Criminal Court. However, Varadkar is also dealing with his own internal matter, with former Finance Minister and party leader Michael Noonan, declaring his support for Paschal Donohoe as a future party leader. The unusual intervention from the party grandee won’t help Varadkar.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has been speaking in Dublin this morning where he has asked Fine Gael supporters to lend their support to his party in order to halt the Sinn Féin surge. The move is a repeat of Fine Gael’s approach in 2011. Martin will then travel to Cork where he is hoping to rally support in what are critical constituencies for the party’s planned path back to power.
Sinn Féin party leader Mary Lou McDonald is expected to be campaigning in Dublin today, including her own electoral constituency of Dublin Central. McDonald is aiming to fight off criticism over the comments made by Conor Murphy and she has called on him to make a full apology today.
The Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin and Alan Kelly, party spokesperson on health, will hold a press conference in the National Print Museum Dublin where it is emphasising its policies on health.
The Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is expected to be canvassing in the Dublin constituencies today. Ryan spoke at the Institute for European and International Affairs yesterday as a part of the institute’s GE2020 leader series. Ryan called for ‘We’ politics where the thinking is changed from the individual to the collective. Ryan believes that green politics is the new wave of ‘We’ politics and believes that as a collective nation we need have a commitment to going green. Ryan also called on the expansion of the State and the reallocation of state funding to support the green and digital movements within the political landscape.
The Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shorthall and Dublin Central candidate Gary Gannon will launch a policy document entitled ‘Supporting Older People’ in Glasnevin today. This policy proposal is focused on initiatives surrounding homecare, healthcare, housing and pensions
Quotes of the Day
– “Putting Fianna Fáil back in power would be like asking John Delaney to take over the FAI again in nine years time.”
Leo Varadkar delivers one of the lines of the night as he targets Micheál Martin.
– “Okay, thank you. You’re going to mansplain corporation tax to me. How very nice”
Mary Lou McDonald takes a jab at Micheál Martin during discussions on corporation tax in last night leaders’ debate.