Updated: 16/02/16 : 05:11:39
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Small parties, indos won election debate on RTÉ

By Eugene McGloin
Political Editor

SCOTTISH LAW has  ''Not Proven'' as a unique verdict option.

It does what it says on the tin; a Sword of Damocles and doubt hangs finely between two sides.

The verdict came to mind all through the first of RTE's election debate last night, Monday.

The debate was won, and clearly so, by the group stuck under the smaller umbrella of ''Independents & Others.''

Lucinda Creighton of Renua was the most clear-headed of all these and held her ground well throughout.

She decisively won the crucial health section of the debate last night.

Creighton scored well on crime, which had the audience sympathy, too.

She was well matched by Richard Boyd Barrett and Stephen Donnelly of the Social Democrats.

The overall winner, in the audience's eyes, was Richard Boyd Barrett, the nominated leader of the People Before Profit & Anti Austerity Alliance.

None of the four main party leaders, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Joan Burton, Fianna Fail's Michael Martin or Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams did as well as those three.

Back Rooms

On the Government side, Joan Burton easily outpointed Enda Kenny on some issues last night.

The Mayo man knocked lumps out of Michael Martin over Templemore and Garda resources, both humans and vehicles.

They will still have groaned in Fine Gael back rooms and if they didn't they should have.

In Fianna Fáil they will still have kicked the walls and if they didn't they should have.

In Sinn Fein back rooms they will still have kicked themselves and if they didn't they should still.

The Shinners won none of the key rounds last night, health, homeless, housing, crime. Only their closing statement was the most inspirational of the lot.

Gerry Adams dismissed the other main party leaders as ''The Three Amigos.''

The five opponents of the two Government speakers (again) FAILED to prove that there is a cohesive and clear-headed alternative.

''Not proven'' was the final verdict for last night; ie the Government got its acquittal.

But for how long? Until the next debate? Until its nominee for Taoiseach is (repeatedly) voted down in March? Until its first budget in Autumn?

Certainly, the coalition was on the ropes last night but they might argue, fairly, that five against two is unfair; more McGregor than MacPiarais.

Unaccountable Monster

Michael Martin proved, once again, he is not the leader to deal with the biggest issue post the election, the rag-order health service.

The FF leader suggested the health service was in better shape in 2004, his watch, and before the HSE was set up.

It begged the simplest question: Why was the HSE set up in the first place by Michael Martin if the health system was better in 2004.

Missed Hostage

Incredibly, RTE, the audience and the other panellists all missed this hostage to fortune.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny had notes in front of him about Michael Martin in 2002 and missed the open goal Michael Martin handed him.

Kenny did score on those 2002 notes and declaimed ''Rubbish, rubbish'' as Martin began to speak about the past five years failures.

The HSE has grown into an unaccountable monster, unanswerable to the Dail.

That HSE accountability was a decision made by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

RTÉ itself did well in this debate, Claire Byrne had an outstanding outing, taking us back to the highest heyday of the late Brian Farrell.

High Points

Byrne had repeated high points, such as her cool-headed persistent probing of Stephen Donnelly on housing and crime.

The audience questions were good primers, notably on health and the homeless.

Mind you, we didn't get questions on migration, refugees, abortion, the eighth amendment.

An audience question last night did get a decisive 100% rebuttal by Enda Kenny of his willingness to do any post-election deal with Fianna Fáil.

Left and Right, the four main parties were often outpointed -- and exposed as cliched and jaded -- by the Independents & Others, both Left and Right.

The 'advantage' on Tuesday morning February 16th 2016 still remains with Enda Kenny. But he is battered and bruised.

The random audience selected by Red C for RTE showed buckets of ANGER out (still) there with this Government. It hasn't gone away you know.

It seems all still to play for in the 10 days ahead, a wide open election which could swing Left or Right for parties and/or for independents.

But the public needs to be shown the building blocks of the blocs which would or could lead/form an alternative Cabinet.

Otherwise, ''Not Proven'' may become the verdict on the final weekend of this month.

Link: See Sligo Today 12/2/2016.