This is quite possibly the first post I've written here about politics in the Republic of Ireland. My label system must be a Unionist, it kept correcting the Ireland label to "Northern Ireland" (or shouldn't that have been "Ulster").
Being a bit of an elections fan (I can still remember the moment I realised Bush had won the 2004 US election based on the Latino vote in the exit polls), I saw that BBC Parliament was showing Monday's Irish election debate yesterday and decided to record it.
I don't know a tremendous amount about Irish politics, but I've picked up bits here and there. I can't honestly remember the precise difference between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, but there is one.
Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote system for elections to the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of their bicameral legislature. This resulted in five parties being present at the debate rather than the three that turned up in the UK ones.
This debate was under the aegis of The Frontline, a weekly politics programme on Ireland's main public broadcaster, Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE). There was another debate yesterday, conducted in Gaelic on TG4 with only three paries, which appears to have got rave reviews. Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael leader, did not turn up to the TV3 debate, also in English (intended to be three-way) due to scheduling problems.
Let's get back to the RTE debate. The debate was basically "an audience member asks a question", then the five leaders had a discussion around it and kept interrupting each other. Pat Kenny was the host and frankly didn't do a brilliant job; he really should have reined the people in.
Our nearest neighbours, Ireland is both very similar and very different to our one. They've got a deficit problem and worries about healthcare. However, Ireland's a republic that emerged via a bloody war of independence and a civil war. It is a user of the euro and has a tiny military. There is also the massive issue of the recent IMF/EU bailout...
The most interesting issue that where we have concerns with people coming in; the Irish (who have a literally massive diaspora) have concerns about people leaving.
So without further ado, I shall give my impressions of the five leaders (from left to right on the screen):
John Gormley (Green)
The Greens were part of the government until recently before pulling out. Gormley demonstrates the very large difference between Green parties that are (or have been) in government and those are not. He was quiet, subdued and not exactly advocating a massive change to the economy. Otherwise, he was unimpressive.
Eamon Gilmore (Labour)
Based on the current polls, Labour are likely to be the junior partners in the new government with Fine Gael. Gilmore was a very muscular, thumping socialist of the old school; calling for a renegotiation of the bailout and wanting to put lots of money into creating jobs. Good, particularly for a guy who has become much more left-wing economically recently, but not brilliant.
Enda Kenny (Fine Gael)
The likely next Taoiseach (that's Prime Minister), Kenny is the leader of the Christian Democratic party Fine Gael ("Tribe of the Irish"). Kenny was strong and assured, advocating a private sector-led recovery (I hope that works - it's not here at the moment) and probably the best person there.
Micheal Martin (Fianna Fáil)
It's pronounced "me-haw", not "my-kal" (Irish names are different like that). As the successor to Brian Cowen as leader of the conservative Fianna Fáil (usually rendered in English "Soldiers of Destiny"), the outgoing PM, Martin is on a hiding to nothing. He wasn't very good at this. He's a bit like Gordon Brown in that regard.
Gerry Adams (Sinn Fein)
Ah, Gerry Adams... I'm familiar with him already through his involvement in NI. Leader of a very socialist party most well known for wanting a unified Ireland, Adams started off convincing then just went bizarre. Wanting to tell the IMF where to get off and getting accused by everyone of his sums not adding up, Adams managed to invoke the Irish Proclamation of Independence in a discussion on healthcare and also the "patriot dead" (those were died in the independence struggle). This might sound a little better in Ireland (the original IRA were socialists), but it sounded odd to me.
No-one wants to form a coalition with this guy and I'm not surprised.
Not a perfect debate, but a very interesting illumination into a land so similar and yet so different to ours.
I plan to watch the results if I can.