The first major television debate of the 26-County election campaign - between Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore - saw sharp and energetic exchanges on budgetary policy, the EU/IMF bailout and the introduction of the bank guarantee.
The debate focussed strongly on the 26-County state’s collapsed economy, and saw no discussion of partition or the national question.
Political pundits suggested that Martin shaded a ‘victory’ over Gilmore due to the public’s low expectations for the new Fianna Fail leader.
Fine Gael’s Enda Kenny, whose party is enjoying a sizable lead in the polls, declined to take part in the TV3 debate and, as the debate took place, instead addressed a “town hall style meeting” in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, who was not invited to the TV3 debate, found out this week that he has been shut out of a second leaders’ debate - this time by the Irish language station, TG4.
That debate taking place in County Galway on Wednesday will see Kenny, Gilmore and Martin take part in the first event of its kind in Ireland to be staged outside Dublin.
The 50-minute discussion in Irish will be recorded for broadcast after the 7pm evening news bulletin on TG4 and will be moderated by chief news presenter Eimear Ni Chonaola.
A further three-leader debate is scheduled for broadcast during RTE’s Prime Time show on February 22nd.
A single five-way leaders’ debate, which will include the Green Party’s John Gormley and Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams, is scheduled to be broadcast next Monday as part of the Frontline programme presented by Pat Kenny on RTE One.
Commenting on the TG4 debate, which does not include Sinn Fein or the Greens, outgoing Sinn Fein TD Aengus O Snodaigh said yesterday: “I think that’s a form of censorship.
“Both of the other leaders have Irish. They should be encouraged, and it’s a pity that TG4 have taken that stance because to date TG4 have had quite a good stance and have been quite good in terms of breaking stories and being quite radical in their approach.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein on Thursday revealed its election manifesto, featuring a 7 billion euro job creation programme, a restoration of the minimum wage to 8.65 euro an hour and an exemption of low earners from the universal social charge.
It would return social welfare payments to 2010 levels, examine mortgage debt forgiveness for those on low and average incomes and reverse health cuts.
Uniquely among the political parties, Sinn Fein’s claims for its proposals to balance the budget within six years have been fully costed and verified by the Department of Finance.
They include a third rate of income tax for those earning in excess of 100,000 euro, a wealth tax on assets worth over a million euro, a restructuring of bank debts and a cap on salaries of TDs and ministers.
Sinn Fein also proposes repudiate or restructure debts to bondholders in insolvent banks and to initiate a wind-down of the State’s ‘bad bank’, the National Asset Management Agency.
Launching Sinn Fein’s manifesto on Thursday morning in Dublin, Gerry Adams said his party was again standing on a platform based on its republican values of citizenship and equality.
“We know that some of the objectives in this manifesto will take time and effort to bring about but we see this election as an opportunity for citizens to invest in the type of Ireland they deserve,” he said.
“That is an Ireland of equals.
“There is a lot of despair and distress out there. It is really important that we rise above this understandable emotion. This mess can be sorted out. But it needs people as citizens to take a stand. It needs citizens to use our votes. Sinn Fein’s manifesto points the way forward. A better way.”
Vice President Mary Lou McDonald outlined a number of measures for reform of the political system in Ireland and said building a better Ireland must include the reunification of the island.
“Sinn Fein wants to build a new republic,” she said.
“There is a real appetite amongst the public to change Ireland - to build a better and fairer Ireland.
It is time to look at the kind of Ireland that we want and how we get there. For Sinn Fein that is an Ireland that is united and has fairness at its core; that has a political system that serves the people and ensures that democracy is representative and where the Irish language is restored as the spoken language among the majority of people of Ireland. Rights, particularly of minorities, need to be recognised and upheld.
“The political system has failed the people of Ireland. A large proportion of those eligible to vote don’t vote. This will be a real problem election where the level of public cynicism with politicians and the political system is at an all time high. This must be addressed.”
* The introduction and executive summary of the manifesto, ‘There is a Better Way’, is included below.