Saturday 19 January 2019

Pat Stacey: Kenny holds his own in big debate battle

One of this morning's news-papers carries a telling front-page photograph of Pat Kenny and the five party leaders lined up in the studio before the start of last night's Frontline Leaders' Debate.

If ever a picture painted a thousand words, it's this one.

Pat is standing in the centre, his hands clasped in front of him, wearing an expression that could either be a huge laugh or a huge yawn.

Immediately to his right is John Gormley, who looks as if he's about to go into that robotic dance routine favoured by England striker Peter Crouch.

On Gormley's right is Eamon Gilmore, staring straight ahead, an indulgent little smile on his face, and looking well pleased with himself.

But it's what's happening on Pat's left that's really interesting.

Micheal Martin is standing with his arms dangling awkwardly by his sides and wearing a milky, hesitant smile, just like the one he wears in his unflattering election posters.

He's looking to his left, where strange things are taking place between Gerry Adams and Enda Kenny.

Adams, his nuclear-white teeth glowing like a fluorescent light, has his arms wrapped tightly around the Fine Gael leader, as if he's about to plant a kiss on his head.

Isolate the pair of them and it could be a snapshot of two old mates at a birthday party that's been posted on Facebook.


Now, if ol' Grizzly Adams were to grab me in an intimate embrace like that, I'd be a little freaked, frankly.

But here's the thing: Enda Kenny looks comfortable and relaxed -- more comfortable and relaxed, in fact, than we've seen him looking throughout the campaign.

That air of confidence carried over to the debate itself.

With the five men standing behind individual little podiums, it was hard to avoid comparisons with game show The Weakest Link, below right.

But anyone expecting Kenny to claim that title at the end of 90 lively minutes was destined to be disappointed.

The popular opinion was that he would be hammered in this five-way game of political ping-pong.

Martin was supposed to be the stronger debater, while Gilmore is the smoother talker and more at ease in front of the camera.

Caught between the two of them, and still suffering the fallout from his refusal to take part in last week's TV3 debate, Kenny would end up as mincemeat.

It didn't quite go according to the script, though.

Gilmore may have had the most ear-catching soundbytes --- especially when he accused the banks of committing the biggest bank robbery in the history of the State -- and Martin may at times have appeared to be more fluent (although there were moments when his eagerness to get a word in sounded like the clucking of a nervous chicken), but Kenny emerged as the most dignified and in-control.

There were times when he elected to simply stand back, stay silent and let the others tear strips off one another.


If it was a deliberate strategy, it was a clever one.

As for Adams, he looked as he always looks in these situations: out of place and out of his depth when it came to the finer points.

Gormley, desperately grasping for a bit of driftwood to hang onto, already looks like the irrelevancy he will be when the votes are counted.

In the end, there was probably no clear winner, but Kenny can content himself that he didn't emerge from it as the loser.

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