Leaders Debate was a teen disco not a UFC bloodsport performance

By david looby

Published 20/02/2016 | 00:00

David Looby
David Looby
The not so magnificent four

THE Leaders Debate on TV3 reminded me of a Social Action disco I was at in a nightclub as a young chap of 14.

There, for 800,000 plus viewers to see, was all the nervous energy bouncing around, the violence, the head-down awkwardness, the gurning, the posturing, the new hair cuts, the anxiety and the self satisfied smugness.

Over 800,000 viewers tuned in to the TV3 Leaders' debate on Thursday night, which aired on a prime time TV slot from 9 p.m. to 10.30 p.m. and featured the leaders of the four largest political parties as part of TV3's VOTE 2016 general election coverage.

An average of 430,000 watched the first big national TV debate which peaked at 502,000 viewers just after 10 p.m. and was broadcast live from the Virgin Media TV3 HD Studio in Dublin in association with Newstalk radio.

The highly charged 90 minute debate saw Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tánaiste Joan Burton, Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil and Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin appearing together for the first major TV debate of the 2016 general election.

Drunk on power, the 'leaders' strode onto the floor, baying for each others' blood, behind forced smiles.

Enda Kenny is not exactly Barack Obama when it comes to debating and it wasn't long before Michael Martin was tearing strips off of him. But Enda was armed with some well rehearsed factoids which hit home on the Fianna Fáil man, who has a vicious look which would not be out of place in a Hammer horror movie.

As for the doe eyed Gerry Adams, he was eaten alive. The Sinn Fein man was cornered on his economic policy and could only muster a mealy mouthed 'you betrayed the people' response in the face of several faces ganging up on him.

Having started well with some well delivered lines, Joan Burton faded away a bit, but could hold her head high at the end, despite a coughing fit.

The show was meant to whet the public's appetite and to be a great debate, but it quickly descended into farce.

Adams behaved like a scolded child. Kenny was all duck and cover, interspersed with the occasional jab, while Martin was fighting for his, and possibly his party's, political life, leaving nothing on the pitch. Meanwhile Burton boxed clever and delivered some wonderful one liners, while parrying many of the blows thrown her way.

Perhaps the greatest blow of the night was from moderator Pat Kenny, against his colleague!

Having listened to a verbal fracas involving the four candidates and Colette Fitzpatrick, he shot a look at his co-presenter and said he had enough of the 'five way' going on in front of him, along with everyone else watching.

If elections are bloodsports, Irish election debates are shadow fights.

No fatal blow was thrown, but Adams looked like a man on the ropes all night, save for some decent comments on health.

At least half the 'debate' was spent on childish, loud noise as Kenny and co talked over each other.

The off kilter camera angles didn't help.

Afterwards political pundits were very eager to proclaim Michael Martin the king of the debate, but in all honesty the only clear winner here was TV3. No real leader emerged, just a good debater.

This was the first of the debates with more to come.

I'll press the record button from now on.

Wexford People

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