"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Bertie-Enda debate

Last night's debate between the candidates for Taoiseach attracted almost a million viewers. But who won? All the contributors on Vincent Browne's radio show last night gave it to Bertie. By contrast, all three broadsheet newspapers scored it a draw. By contrast The headline in The Irish Times today was "Kenny scores on confidence and Ahern on detail." I must say that chimes with my view of the debate. As Stephen Collins puts it on page one of the Irish Times report, Enda impressed with the "confidence and the clarity of his message on services and accountability" and generally looked "confident and alert." The Irish Examiner headline was "No killer punchline means a messy draw" and the Irish Independent's verdict was "Ahern shades it but fails to land a knockout." RTE.ie said: "Most commentators agreed that Bertie Ahern won overall, despite a strong performance from Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny."

The challenger has a clear message (the Contract for a Better Ireland) and was intent on getting it across to those watching and listening. He stumbled a few times with figures, but I don't think that will have bothered many watching - the trench warfare over budgetary figures and projections probably went over the heads of most voters, including this one. Kenny also didn't deal properly with the Taoiseach's allegation that the top 3% of earners would gain most from the FG-Labour tax proposals. On the healthcare issue, which should have been his strongest area (by virtue of it being the Government's weakest flank), Kenny didn't score a clear victory. The speech as Gaeilge and the quote from Abraham Lincoln at the end were good touches.

Both began a little tensely, but got into their stride before long. Bertie gave a generally commanding performance and fought a tough, at times ferocious, rearguard action on the healthcare issue. I was also impressed by the easygoing way in which the Taoiseach emphasised his experience at the Cabinet table and that he answered well when Miriam O'Callaghan asked him to disagree with Tony Blair's statement that 10 years is long enough to be head of government. His opening breeziness evaporated when asked about his house and the loans he took from friends, but he had a free pass on that, since Kenny expressed no view on it. The Taoiseach shipped a few heavy blows, I thought, when Kenny pointed out that numerous Fianna Fail promises made in 2002 never came to pass, such as the Dublin Metro open by this year (building has yet to start), 2000 extra Gardai on the beat (admittedly that promise will be met in this fiscal year) and an end to waiting lists (albeit Bertie countered that lists have come down in many areas).

My own view? The debate ebbed and flowed. Probably the champion shaded it on points, but the challenger threw some good punches too.