Wexford's people get their message across
Filmed on Monday night and broadcast, after editing, on Wednesday night the People's Debate with Vincent Browne was a very mixed bag.
The majority of people across the constituency and beyond who watched last Wednesday's show only had the programme, as it was broadcast, to judge some of the prospective candidates by. However certain topics which had been debated, in a rather loose sense of the word, two nights previously had been edited out.
The two hour programme was laborious to watch and really gave no insight into most of the would-be TD's with the exception of a few well known names, basically the sitting councillors and Deputy Mick Wallace, the only one of the three TD's seeking re-election in the county, to take part in the debate.
Anyone hoping to get a flavour of what Direct Democracy Ireland candidate David Lloyd stood for would have been sorely disappointed as he made just one contribution to the debate, such as it was, at the end of the show. Host Vincent Browne asked some of the candidates who hadn't made much, if any, contribution why people should vote for them to which Lloyd replied 'Pfffff, I'm a new candidate from a new party. We're still at grassroots level and we will have a new manifesto in a couple of weeks time.'
However he couldn't enlighten the voters as to the content of the manifesto as he added hastily that he couldn't say much about that until he had been approved.
Similarly viewers ruminating over merits of independents Caroline Fox, Emmett Maloney and Breda Cahill and Social Democrat Leonard Kelly gleaned little and even established councillors, Cllr James Browne (Fianna Fail), Deirdre Wadding (People Before Profit) and Johnny Mythen (Sinn Fein) failed to make an much of an impact during the edited programme. Although Cllr Mythen did raise a few smiles from the audience when he responded to Vincent's question about the Army Council by pulling out his mobile and pretending to listen to an order.
From the get go it was clear that if you were in Government you better watch out. Minister Brendan Howlin was the first to come under fire from Vincent Browne who said 'Brendan Howlin refused to take part. He made it quite clear a white ago he'd have nothing to do with it (the programme) and didn't want to take part in a debate in front of an audience of his own constituents. Maybe that says something about Brendan Howlin', he said to claps and cheers from the audience.
Deputy Paul Kehoe was next on the blocks. 'The Government Chief Whip is not with us. It's interesting that Paul Kehoe has also decided against taking part in a debate in from of 600, 700 maybe 800 of his constituents', said Browne to more clapping from the audience.
Opening the programme Vincent pointed out that Wexford was the third most disadvantaged of all the 40 constituencies. He said that the largely rural make up of the county was one of the main reasons for Wexford's disadvantaged state. He said there was a lot of deprivation in rural Ireland noting Wexford lacked big urban centres. He also said that Wexford's unemployment rate was 'well above the national average'.
A spate between Cllr Malcolm Byrne and Deputy Mick Wallace about Wallace's ended up with the threat of legal action been taken against Byrne.
Cllr Byrne said that Deputy Wallace 'lacked credibility because of the fact you failed to pay €2.1 million in tax and you failed to pay your employee's pension contributions. I'm sorry but as someone who comes from an ordinary background I don't believe it's credible for any national politician to put themselves before the electorate when they still have that enormous tax bill hanging over them.'
Deputy Wallace didn't take the allegations lying down. 'We thought at the time that we would eventually be able to pay it (the tax)'. He said that he believed that unless he took the course of action he did by underdeclaring his tax that the business would have folded leaving 120 men out of work. He said such underdeclarations of tax aren't 'as abnormal as you think. When we discovered we weren't able to pay it we contacted the revenue'.
In respect of the pension contributions he said Cllr Byrne's allegations 'were completely untrue and if this said on the airwaves I'll go to the bother of suing you' to which Vincent Browne retorted that 'you have now ensured that this will be aired. We will not succumb to threats such as that.' Deputy Wallace said that 100 per cent of pension contributions had been paid in respect of his workers adding the company had been fined for late payment not non payment.
He said the late payment had arisen as a result of a dispute with the pension board over the number of men that pension contributions were outstanding.
Defending Deputy Wallace Vincent Browne pointed out that he had issued a public apology in the Dail. Continuing the Wallace love in Vincent Browne said Deputy Wallace is 'one of the best TD's in the Dail, saying he had doggedly raised important issues such as NAMA, the gardai, Shannon airport, 'issues which other (TD's) don't deal with'.
While Vincent Browne was largely full of admiration for Deputy Wallace Senator Michael D'Arcy bore the brunt of his ire. When young mother of two Claire Malone spoke of the prospect of being evicted by Wexford County Council just weeks before Christmas after the death of her ex-partner Vincent pointed out that Senator D'Arcy 'represent the Government policy that has created a situation where a woman like this is in dire circumstances. How can that be justified? He said that housing services weren't a priority for the Government.
He said that 'this Government has made it (the housing situation) worse by forcing fire sales. Both the IRBC and Nama are selling property in large chunks quickly in ways that couldn't represent value'
However at the end of the programme Vincent relented a little and acknowledged that Senator D'Arcy had 'come along to face his constituents unlike his colleagues'. Vincent saved his parting shot saying that several dates had been offered to Minister Howlin for the debate but he had declined as had 'Padraig Kehoe', leaving viewers to assume he meant Deputy Paul Kehoe.