Here is the adjudication of the Second Irish election leaders debate I submitted to http://electiondebates.wordpress.com/.
To me the format was a problem. The questions at times were not clearly thought out and the result was that the moderator Pat Kenny had to guide the debate more than I would have liked. There really were no stand out performances and the speaker points are less than last week’s debate. But that is mainly due to the disjointed nature of a five way debate. It is further complicated in that each speaker will have gone into the debate seeing to achieve different things and so will have had different approaches. For example Enda Kenny will have wanted to avoid serious trouble while Michael Martin will have wanted to remain on the offensive to keep the focus away from the failings of the outgoing government. Eamon Gilmore will have wanted to show that he can compete with the two bigger parties (or at least historically bigger). Gerry Adams and John Gormley will both have wanted to shore up their core support and won’t have minded if their arguments alienate more voters than they attract.
So to look at the individual speakers as I ranked them and giving them points based on the Worlds format.
1. Enda Kenny 75 - He needed to look like a Taoiseach in waiting and in that respect he probably carried the debate. He stayed out of some of the conflicts and left the others fight it out while he looked on. When he did allow himself to get drawn into a conflict it seemed to be only on areas where he knew he would be strong. Given this tactic he rarely looked under pressure, other than when Gilmore challenged him on his growth figures, and certainly there were very fewer punches landed on him than on the others. He sort of glided through the middle to win the debate.
2. Michael Martin: 73 - Continuing on from last week he was the most combative of the five speakers. He tried to go on the offensive at times but this format was not as suitable for aggression as last week. He attacked Adams repeatedly and was instrumental in undermining Adam’s arguments. Later he was ganged up on by the others over his history in health department. However he did well in defending his vision of a health system where the focus is on survival rates. That said he simply was not able to answer the charge of being in government for 14 years and achieving very little. On balance when comparing Martin, Gilmore and Gormley his combative style nudges him to the head of this small pack.
3. John Gormley: 72 - He came across as honest about the failings in government and committed to the green agenda. He worked the carbon levy, wind power, wave power etc into his argument at every possible opportunity. In this respect he will have appealed to his green base but I felt it sometimes had the effect of putting his arguments out on a tangent from the others. At times this worked to differentiate him in the minds of the audience but at other times it isolated him and some of his key points didn’t engage with any of the others. As one of the two smaller parties he seemed to get less time than the leaders of the main parties. I get the feeling that had Gormley been allowed more time to speak then his honest approach and clear green policies may have had to be dealt with more by the others but we have to judge it based on what did happen not what might have been.
4. Eamon Gilmore: 71 - He didn’t look very assured in the debate. He was more combative than last week but he also seemed to suffer most from the short time to speak as he was not always getting into his full stride before being cut off. Of all the leaders I am less informed about what he is proposing than any of the others. He seemed to be arguing on vague sound bites (balance between cuts and increased revenue, “passionate for reform”) but was lacking in specifics. You can blame the format but throughout the debate I had more of an idea of what the other parties stood for. His high point was the conflict with Kenny over Fine Gael’s growth figures but after that he faded badly.
5. Gerry Adams: 69 - He had a clear “team line” on his vision for a Real Republic. He had a couple of lines prepared to work into every possible topic but when you went beyond the sound bite there were holes in his figures. While I criticised Gilmore for being vague Adams was too specific for his own good at times. He could not answer how he would take 7 billion from 4.9 billion. His biggest proposal for savings seemed to be by cutting politicians salaries which really doesn’t seem to add up to the half a billion he claimed. At times he went back to his old stock and trade of beating the republican drum at times and calling on the memory of “our patriot dead”. He allowed himself to get rattled on the allegations of fraud and he suffered in that his figures were the most picked apart by the others. In this respect he came clearly last.
So that’s Kenny winning the debate with Martin in second, Gormley in 3rd, Gilmore 4th and Adams 5th. Given the messy format of the debate I don’t know if it will translate into any more votes for the parties but certainly it sets up for an interesting final English Language debate next week.