Thursday, May 17, 2007


It wasn't lacklustre. It wasn't boring. Sure, we didn't have the quips of last night or the venom. But it was more muscular and robust than I had thought it would be.

Kenny's performance was very impressive, especially compared to the guy who was wiped by PrimeTime six years ago. He held his own, scored a couple of points, and may have quelled many of the questions surrounding his competence. He also came across as a decent man, less aggressive than Mr Ahern.

But Bertie Ahern edged it. He was put on the back foot every time Miriam O'Callaghan put it to him that the Government was in power for ten years, that we had record resources, but had failed to deliver key promises in health, crime etc. He was particularly uncomfortable on
1. Cystic fibrosis and the fact that the mortality rate is much higher in the Republic than in the North
2. In admitting the mess surrounding John Daly, the prisoner in Portlaoise who made a
Funnily enough, when it came to his personal finances and BertieGate, he dealt with that comfortably - no issue emerged. Of course, he was aided by Kenny who again reciled from getting engaged on this issue.

Where Ahern scored most heavily was on the following matters in order of ranking.

1. Forcing Enda Kenny to give Jim O'Keeffe a public dressing down when he admitted his justice spokesman did not have the correct statistics to hand last week.
2. Successfully planting a seed of doubt over FG's promise to deliver 2,000 extra guards. Is it 1,000 or 2,000? It seems it's 1,000 patched on to 1,000 already committed by this Government. This was a biggie.
3. Bringing up a point raised by Bryan Dobson last week about FG's promise to deliver free health care to under 5s. Ahern argued it would be impossible to implement, something Kenny never rebutted wholly.
4. He also had a fruitful sally at FG's tax plans. Kenny never got round to responding to Ahern's argument that FG's tax reform plans would most favour the richest 3% of voters.
5. He also raised some doubts about the ambivalent costings and time scales of FG's and Labour's plan to provide 2,300 hospital beds. In fairness, Kenny responded strongly with a direct attack on the Government's co-location plans.

Other areas produced mashed or inconclusive results. Both showed themselves capable of drizzling us with stats on the economy without delivering a killer line. Kenny dealt competently with one of his Achiles Heel questions - his lack of experience in Government. He also threw in a bit of Irish at the end which did him no harm at all.

But these debates are not only decided by moot points or small incremental victories. The body language and demeanour, composure, confidence and decency, are also important. And Kenny did come across as an essentially decent man. While he may have lost on a close points decision in my view, there was nothing to suggest that he doesn't have the wherewithal to become Taoiseach.

Earlier in the day, there was talk that Ahern and FF were all at sea and had given up the ghost. This will have galvanised him and those around him. In what is shaping up to be the closest and most determinate elections for a long long time, this was a determined and defiant (at times too aggressively defiant) performance by that may put FF back in the chase.

It was good stuff. From the off. In fact, meatier and more robust than last night. And both leaders, both parties will have taken their positives from it.

But my own opinion remains the same - Ahern shaded it.