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General Election 2020: Still all to play for after RTE Prime Time leaders' debate


The leaders of the country’s three biggest political parties, according to the polls, battled it out tonight on the RTE Prime Time general election debate.

Leo Varadkar warned that bringing back Micheál Martin to run the economy would be like bringing back John Delaney.

Leo said: “Putting Fianna Fáil back in charge of our economy would be like allowing John Delaney to take back charge of the FAI in nine years’ time.”

The Taoiseach’s stinging potshot at the Fianna Fáil leader was the stand-out moment of tonight’s showdown debate between the country’s three biggest party’s leaders.

Mr Martin was also the target of Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald most cutting jibe when she said he was trying to “mansplain” corporation tax to her.



L to R: Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, RTE presenter David McCullagh, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar, RTE presenter Miriam O’Callaghan and Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald at the final TV leaders’ debate at the RTE studios in Donnybrook, Dublin

The Sinn Féin leader felt she was being lectured by Mr Martin as he got technical on tax details.

She said: “You’re going to ‘mansplain’ corporation tax to me?

“The political establishment will find every reason in the world to provide breaks to the big corporates.

“The facts are that the banks are profitable, the facts are that the taxpayer bailed them out and the facts are that they don’t pay one cent in corporate tax.”

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The lightest moment of the evening belonged to one of the show hosts, David McCullough – sharing the stage with Miriam O’Callaghan – when he asked Ms McDonald how Sinn Féin would keep the pension pot going in future years if we don’t raise the pension age.

She said that “demographics” would look after that.

Mr McCullough said: “So you’re encouraging people to procreate?”

“Absolutely,” the Sinn Féin leader shot back.

On Brexit, the three leaders agreed that there is still a lot to play for on Brexit.

Mr Varadkar was able to boast of his achievements in getting us this far.

It led to Ms McDonald saying sarcastically: “You’re wonderful, aren’t you.”

Mr Varadkar smiled as he acknowledged the praise: “Thank you.”



L to R: Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald at the final TV leaders’ debate at the RTE studios in Donnybrook, Dublin

The three leaders lined out for the crunch debate tonight after a dramatic U-turn from RTE saw Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, added to the podium.

The national broadcaster was effectively forced to reverse its decision and bring along Ms McDonald after incredible opinion poll results.

Three in a row saw Fine Gael lagging behind Sinn Féin, with the last poll this week from Ipsos MRBI for the Irish Times showing Sinn Féin out clear and ahead of both Fine Gael and Fianna on 25%.

Ms McDonald performed an embarrassing U-turn when she said that senior Northern Ireland party member and former minister Conor Murphy would apologise to the family of murdered Paul Quinn.

Mr Murphy linked the innocent 21 year old to criminals at the time of his murder

He told BBC in November 2007: “Paul Quinn was involved in smuggling and criminality. He is aware that the comments made caused hurt.”

Tonight Ms McDonald said: “I have spoken to Conor.

“He has apologised for those remarks.

“Those things should not have been said.

“The remarks were wrong and Conor will apologise personally to the Quinn family.


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Mr Martin was strong on health having been a successful minister himself.

He claimed that Mr Varadkar, when Health Minister, said: ‘More beds would ease the pressure and lead to less productivity.’

“That is wrong,” Mr Martin added.

He attacked Ms McDonald on her party’s tax policies, which he said don’t make sense.

“Sinn Féin have magicked up the figures, they do not add up.

“There’s some sort of magic fairy tree out there that’s going to deliver all of this.”

Mr Varadkar upped the ante before the debate even started when he said Mr Martin would do anything to become Taoiseach after the election.

The Taoiseach said he didn’t believe Mr Martin’s denials that he wouldn’t enter coalition with Sinn Féin because he was so desperate to become the country’s leader.

He said: “This is Micheál’s third time as party leader going into an election – he is not going to get a fourth.

“This is his only chance to be Taoiseach.

“And he might lead us on a merry dance for a few months but ultimately he would go in with Sinn Féin in order to be Taoiseach.

“And, secondly, already the smoke signals are going off all over the country from his TDs saying it is okay.”


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Mr Varadkar was speaking during a podcast with the Irish Times and he added: “Fianna Fáil is divided on this – we are not.

“Fianna Fáil TDs are publicly sending out signals that a coalition between Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin is okay with them.

“Imagine all the ones who are saying it privately when so many are saying it publicly and this is Micheál’s last chance.”

Polling day takes place this Saturday and it is still all to play for after tonight’s crunch debate.

Sinn Féin holds a clear lead in the opinion polls with a quarter of all voters, but all of the other parties believe this is overstated – it probably is – and they will fight to the last to grab every available vote.



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