To paraphrase Michael Martin, it was very much a “something for everyone in the audience” debate:
Enda won by not screwing up, remaining poised and being relatively fluid. Is it me, or did he look a bit more Taoiseachy by being placed in the middle? His honest answer on who will bear the cuts did him no harm. The one almost car crash moment was when Eamonn pressed him on Fine Gael’s growth projections. Enda’s eye flicker gave away that he didn’t know the answer, and Eamonn should have gone in with a laser like “What is the figure Enda? You don’t know, do you?” It would have been a electric moment of decapitation, but the Labour leader didn’t. Did he not realise?
Michael was solid, but not let away with his Rip Van Winkle (Best line of the debate, by Enda) approach to the last 14 years. His attack on Gerry shows where Fianna Fail are beginning to worry.
Gerry was like the old Gerry, affable, in command of his brief (even if he avoided any questions) and likable. His base will be very happy. People forget that he is not playing to 85% of the electorate.
Eamonn was solid as well, far more lively than the TV3 debate, but you get the impression that you are no longer looking at The Man Who Could Be Taoiseach. He may yet emerge as Labour’s Neil Kinnock, putting Labour into second place in time for the next generation leader to do the Blair.
John was by far the most serious, honest and frank of the five, if getting a littly geeky at times. Answering a question on emigration with electoral reform was certainly the most Zen approach to a political question I’ve ever seen. But he came across as decent, and certainly did his party no harm, and probably a bit of help, although as to whether it will be enough to push back the coming tsunami is another thing. As the only leader likely to not have a seat in the next Dail, he reminded people, including, he hopes, his own constituents, as to why they elected him in the first place.