Updated: 12/02/16 : 05:29:17
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Kenny won first leaders debate, he listened

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

ENDA KENNY won the leaders debate on TV3 and Newstalk last night, Wednesday.

He listened. That was his match-winner on a night when all the others shouted, interrupted, coughed, heckled, argued.

That must be why his colleagues say he runs a good Cabinet; he listens.

Kenny may have won the first battle but the war of attrition still has two weeks to run.

His (overall) handling of the issue of the Eighth Amendment looked solid to this viewer.

The Taoiseach looked, more than the others, like he could embrace the (complex) concerns re a referendum on ''the abortion amendment'' inserted in the Constitution in 1983.

It would have been (too) easy for Enda Kenny to wrap himself inside the national media consensus and Left-wing consensus on the subject.

There are significant nuances and complexities to be teased out. He is listening.

Enda Kenny was the only potential leader of an incoming government on view last night, truth be told.

The two interviewers failed to probe Michael Martin on the components of (any) government he could lead in March.

Fianna Fáil's stance on that doesn't add up, yet anyway, and it wasn't evident in answer to questions put by Newstalk's Pat Kenny and Colette Fitzpatrick.

Nor do I believe the Fianna Fáil leader re dealing with Fine Gael in the election aftermath.

The Irish Examiner underlines that very same standpoint on its front page today, Thursday.

Enda Kenny will probably have a new Tanaiste, come the Cabinet of March 2016.

Of course if he loses the election Michael Martin would be happy to have him in that role. Vice versa?


Joan Burton scored lowest of the four leaders in last night's debate.

There is substantial room to improve in the upcoming debates.

Labour's deputy leader Alan Kelly must have winced as Burton floundered on the ropes on housing.

The Taoiseach toadied to Labour last night by talking up their role in the outgoing Government.

Translated by the neutral that seemed more like the Taoiseach was spread-betting some of the blame(s) to come in the debates to come.

The Taoiseach himself got mired in the mud on health -- his two party ministers -- but it wasn't fatal....in this first debate anyway.

Health could (should) yet be the Achilles Heel of this outgoing Government. It should be their outright downfall.

But on health the Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin has little to chirp about....especially in Sligo.

Martin only won last night in his direct confrontation with Gerry Adams.

But that is not the route to Taoiseach. He can only get that if he out-strips Enda Kenny.

Breast Cancer

I haven't contemplated voting for Michael Martin, a view unchanged by anything last night.

2. Martin set up the HSE 13 years ago and has been arrogantly protective of it all through that time.

3. Last night Michael Martin stoutly defended the principle which caused breast cancer services to be stripped from Sligo and for which he voted in Cabinet.

4. Martin still fails to acknowledge that NO cancer 'centre of excellence' was created by the Cabinet of which he was member, westward of line from Dublin to Galway.

5. That view is at variance -- was always at variance -- with senior party figures in Sligo and supporters.

No great surprise, but cancer was the subject I felt strongest about last night. Fianna Fáil still lacks humility on its failure in Sligo.

'Forceful' Performance

That all said, Stephen Collins in this morning's edition of The Irish Times says the Fianna Fáil leader put in a ''forceful'' performance in last night's debate.

That newspaper adjudges, too, that there was no clearcut winner or loser last night.

For my money, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams did surprisingly well on several issues.

That included housing, where he outpointed both Government speakers and especially Tanaiste Joan Burton.

Too Frequently

Adams held his ground on opposing the non-jury courts. He has rightly held it on the agenda despite media hostility.

For 40 years I've been an (unchanging) opponent of the Special Criminal Court.

It derogated from the Constitution's ethos and from our attempt to be an exemplary Republic.

My ex Sunday Tribune colleague, the late Derek Dunne, co-authored the definitive book on the Sallins and Hazelhatch mail train robbery, ''Round Up The Usual Suspects.''

Those who argue for trials by judges without juries should first read that book, co-authored with Gene Kerrigan.....all of it.....and then debate.

My views on the subject were influenced as a reporter on the Leitrim Observer, at a time in 1974-1978 when that Court was used (too) frequently in that county.

Views Subjective

My various views on health, courts, housing, the economy -- as inspired by the first debate of Election 2016 -- are subjective, a personal reaction as it happened last night.

Others will agree and disagree, equally strongly on both sides.

The election itself will be decided in all the individual ballot boxes two weeks from today.

It remains my contention that Enda Kenny will shortly lead a minority government with four support prongs.

So long as Fianna Fáil and Sinn Fein remain diametrically opposed, a minority government can stay in place. Do the math.