Friday, February 18, 2011

Campaign Diary Days 15 and 16 - Two more Debates

I have a long standing (16 years at this stage!) commitment on Wednesday evenings and so what is midweek for most is my evening off from the political scene. So it was with some disappointment that I realized I was going to miss the diospóireacht as Gaeilge on TG4 between the three main leaders. By all accounts it was far better than Monday's debate. With the figures showing up to half a million people watched at least part of one of the two broadcasts, it shows that holding a debate in Irish, when all three leaders are able to speak the language, is a good idea.

Last night there was a far more parochial debate held in the Town Hall in Rathmines. Chaired by Aine Lawlor, the event was well attended by both politicians and the public. Due to a meeting in Ringsend about the incinerator, not all candidates were there at the start but by the end only Ruairi Quinn (who had sent apologies) and Chris Andrews were the only representatives of the main parties to not attend.

The format allowed each candidate to give a 5 minute pitch which took about an hour. With so many independents running in Dublin South East this was a great opportunity allow them to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. Most impressive were Paul Sommerville, Hugh Sheehy and, surprisingly to me, Dylan Haskins. On the other end of the scale I wouldn't have rated James Coyle or Peadar O'Ceallaigh highly on the basis of their performance. Mannix Flynn went off on his usual tirade against the system which having heard it several times before, did nothing for me. Of the party representatives, Annette Mooney did well as did John Gormley despite facing a fairly hostile crowd. Eoghan Murphy talked in endless platitudes and aspirations and won't have won over much from Lucinda Creighton's support base.

The second hour was taken up with questions and statements from the floor with responses from various panel members. The opening twenty minutes or so was taken up with the closure of the cancer care in St Luke's hospital. While obviously an important issue locally, with most of the candidates running on national issues Aine Lawlor had her work cut out moving the debate on to other topics. Once over the first hurdle the questions came thick and fast touching on welfare and disability cuts, the quango cull, Croke Park and political reform.

One man, who I have seen at various meetings before, tried to make a big issue out of immigration but none of the candidates were interested and in fact Sheehy took him on, stating that many of his co-workers, while not Irish, were hard working, tax payers and should be welcomed here. There was also a frank exchange on FG's position on trade unions with Creighton getting in all her talking points on Jack O'Connor and David Begg.

The meeting eventually finished up just after 10:30 by which stage most of the 200 or so in the room were glad to leave and get some fresh air. Overall it was a most enjoyable evening and certainly sorted out the ranking of all the independents in my mind. Well done to the Rathmines Initiative for arranging the event.

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