'Creaker' of an RTÉ Leaders' Debate

Wednesday 24 February 2016 00.30
The four leaders got plenty of reaction online
The four leaders got plenty of reaction online

The last debate featuring the four main party leaders - Enda Kenny, Micheál Martin, Joan Burton and Gerry Adams - was a "creaker", er... "squeaker" of a showdown and brought cronyism, climate change and housing to the fore, among other issues.

All four leaders did their best to stand up for their parties' policies, both past and present. 

But a creaky part of the set got tongues wagging from the outset. 

But as for the serious issues...

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin defended himself against criticism regarding his time as health minister, as Mr Adams suggested there was a two-tier health system.

An awkward moment followed between Mr Kenny and Mr Adams, as the Taoiseach made reference to Labour Senator Mairia Cahill. 

The issue of mental health was briefly addressed before attention was diverted by the Tánaiste to Mr Adams. While questioned over the Government's allocation of 6% of the entire health budget expenditure on mental health, Ms Burton implied that Mr Adams' decision to travel to America for a procedure was hypocrital. 

Ms Burton then accused Mr Adams of living in "cloud cuckoo land". 

Figures were key on the subject of the parties' proposals on tax relief. 

One of the campaign's recurring issues - the housing crisis - was also brought up.

In defence of the former government, Ms Burton said that "her heart goes out to anyone who is without a home", and said that while she was in government 2,000 ghost estates were re-opened. 

But Micheál Martin countered that the ongoing homeless crisis was a 'damning indictment' of the government, while adding that there must be an increase in rent allowance.

Miriam O'Callaghan was quick to point out that despite his criticisms, under Fianna Fáil's watch between 2008 and 2010 the building of social housing more than halved. 

With regards to the struggle for young people not being able to afford a deposit for a house, Mr Kenny said that the answer lay in variable mortgage rates, and that there needed to be competition between banks. But Ms Burton offered a suggestion for first-time buyers.

The discussion about cronyism left each of the party leaders uncomfortable, as they were challenged on various appointments they had made in recent years. 

Regarding the controversial appointment of David Begg to the chair of the Pensions Authority, Ms Burton insisted that she had followed the legal process exactly. 

Micheál Martin was quick to backtrack after initially agreeing with Miriam O'Callaghan that his appointment of Celia Larkin - Bertie Ahern's former partner - to the board of the National Consumer Agency was "cronyism at best".  

Meanwhile, when queried, Mr Kenny took responsibility for the appointment of John McNulty to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, but insisted that things had now changed.

Mr Adams was quick to address the significance of the Taoiseach's statement. 

No one was left excluded from the discussion on cronyism, as Mr Martin claimed Mr Adams was: "in no position to talk about cronyism anywhere".

The impact of climate change was also brought to the party leaders' attention, with Miriam O'Callaghan saying it was the "biggest issue of our time at the moment". 

Joan Burton highlighted that there had to be "key reductions in carbon emmissions", using Moneypoint as an example.

In the final question of the night, each of the party leaders were asked about their biggest regrets. While three party leaders used their answers to highlight achievements, Micheál Martin gave perhaps the most honest answer.