A strong Fine Gael supporter I know made a very valid point to me during the week about Enda Kenny. He reckoned that those of us close to politics are missing the fact that the polls are showing that FG under Enda continues to be the most popular party, despite the fact that the media are obsessed with Enda as a liability. It’s a fair point. It’s very possible that come Feb 25 Enda could lead FG to their greatest ever election victory. Some liability!
The debate is part of that dynamic, and all hinges on the question of whether the Irish people really do feel that it matters who will be Taoiseach. Maybe they don’t, after all, it’s not like he gets handed the codes to our fleet of nuclear submarines. Instead, he actually gets emails from the ECB saying ” €15? For a stapler??? What’s going on over there???”
So what matters? Will the debate change anything? Given FG’s approach to the debates, it has certainly weakened Enda’s image, but with whom? People who were never going to vote for him anyway?
I would suggest that the biggest opportunity is for Eamonn Gilmore to close the gap. Michael Martin is not going to be Taoiseach this time, it’s between Enda and Eamonn, and Eamonn Gilmore has an opportunity not to beat up the Fianna Fail leader (who will spend part of the debate flaying himself like Gladstone anyway) but to show that he is a man with a plan for the future. Most importantly, Gilmore has to break free of the “Jack O’Connor’s Man” and convince that he will be a broadly based Taoiseach not captive to any sector of society. If he can do that, it could be game on.