Leaders clash in final election debate

Wednesday 23 February 2011 16.44
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Prime Time - Three party leaders in final debate of campaign
Prime Time - Three party leaders in final debate of campaign
Fine Gael - Measures to deal with youth unemployment (Pic: Liam Sweeney)
Fine Gael - Measures to deal with youth unemployment (Pic: Liam Sweeney)
Gerry Adams - SF would 'stand up for Irish interests'
Gerry Adams - SF would 'stand up for Irish interests'
Micheál Martin - Preparing for leaders' debate
Micheál Martin - Preparing for leaders' debate
Eamon Gilmore - Party published Manifesto for Children
Eamon Gilmore - Party published Manifesto for Children

The three main party leaders have clashed on banks, the economy and the health service in tonight's final leaders' debate.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused Fine Gael and Labour of seeking to conceal the pain their policies would cause.

However, Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore turned their fire on Micheál Martin saying his Government had done a disastrous deal with the EU and the IMF.

The debate was predictably dominated by banking and the economy.

Both opposition leaders said the Government had done a bad deal with the EU and the IMF and botched the bank guarantee.

Micheál Martin insisted his Government’s actions had been endorsed by the Central Bank Governor.

The differences between Fine Gael and Labour on cutting public sector numbers and reforming the health services were evident but the rhetoric was cordial.

Mr Gilmore told his counterpart they might have to sit down after the election to hammer out agreement on public service numbers.

On the health service, Micheál Martin said Fine Gael plans would be unworkable and expensive, insisting there would have been big improvements in the sector under Fianna Fáil which sparked angry exchanges with Eamon Gilmore.

The debate saw Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore bury the hatchet after the spats of the campaign.

Micheál Martin sought to highlight inconsistencies between Fine Gael and Labour, but what looked like a joint approach deflected many of his punches.

Poll

The debate comes as the latest national opinion poll shows a further slip in support for Fianna Fáil, with Independents and smaller parties benefitting.

The Millward Brown Lansdowne poll for tomorrow's Irish Independent shows Fine Gael support up marginally, while Labour holds steady.

More than 1,000 voters around the country were questioned for this poll.

Of those questioned, 11% were undecided, which is a drop of three points since the last poll by the same company, which was published on Sunday.

When they are excluded, support for Fianna Fáil is down two points to 14%, Fine Gael is up one to 38% and Labour is unchanged at 20%.

The Green Party is also unchanged on 1%, Sinn Féin is down one point to 11%, while Independents and Others are up two to 16%.

Satisfaction with Michéal Martin is up eight points to 46%, which is the highest figure for the leaders.

Enda Kenny is down two to 39%, Eamon Gilmore drops four to 42%, John Gormley is down two to 24% and Gerry Adams is down four to 29%.

Fine Gael promises Job Creation Bill

Earlier today, Fine Gael promised a Job Creation Bill within the first 100 days if the party is elected to Government.

Mr Kenny said that the young generation is taking national punishment and he said that the jobs crisis in Ireland is not just a national headline, it is a national heartbreak.

Mr Kenny said if in Government his party intends to create 20,000 jobs every year for the next five years.

The Labour Party said a referendum on children could be held within a year of the election.

Mr Gilmore said Labour had been 'direct and straight' about where it differed on policy with Fine Gael, but there were many areas where the two parties shared common ground.

Mr Martin claimed there had been too much 'ducking and diving' around politics in the election campaign.

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has dismissed suggestions that there would be serious consequences if Ireland did not meet its obligations to the International Monetary Fund.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Adams said Sinn Féin, in Government, would stand up for Irish interests against the international banking community.

He accepted that the European Central Bank had invested vast sums of money in Ireland, but insisted this was the ECB's 'problem'.

The Sinn Féin leader again denied any involvement in the murder and abduction of Jean McConville in 1972.

Mr Adams also said that his past has not been an issue for the vast majority of people he has met on the campaign trail.

The Green Party held an online Question and Answer session with voters from 11am to 7pm. It said more than 2,000 people particpated in the discussion.

The most popular topic among questioners was the party's record in Government.