The planned televised political party leaders' debate, set of the Irish language channel TG4, has been canceled due to Labour Party leader Joan Burton's and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams’ lack of fluency, “as Gaeilge” (in Irish).
The TV channel had planned a debate between Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, Fianna Fáil’s leader Micheál Martin, as well as Burton and Adams. The Labour leader had offered to substitute Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin while Sinn Fein suggested that native speaker from Gweedore in the Donegal Gaeltacht, Pearse Doherty, take Adams' spot.
The proposal was not acceptable to Fianna Fáil, who believe the leaders’ debate should be confined to leaders alone. They suggested that TG4 host a two party debate between Martin and Kenny. Fine Gael also said that Kenny would agree to a two-way debate.
It is estimated that there are between 40,000 and 80,000 native Irish speakers living in Gaeltacht areas in Ireland. According to the 2011 Census of the Republic of Ireland just 77,185 speak Irish every day (from a population of 4.59 million).
Due to the lack of fluency among the Irish political leaders the new arrangement with TG4 will now involve one-on-one interviews with Kenny and Martin followed by a segment involving Ó Ríordáin and Doherty. The TV channel told the Irish Times they were disappointed but that the new plan was the only realistic option.
In 2011 the leaders of the three main political parties – Kenny, Martin and the former Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore – took part in a full debate in Irish, on TG4. The quality of the debate was widely praised at the time.
On Monday evening seven party leaders – including Richard Boyd Barrett as representative for the Anti Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit and Social Democrats joint-leader Stephen Donnelly – took part in a debate in English held at the University of Limerick.
Following the debate the smaller parties - the Social Democrats and Anti-Austerity / People Before Profit - were praised for focusing on outlining their policies while the larger party leaders continued to attack each other.
Social Democrats’ Stephen Donnelly told the public that the Irish Government never shows up for small business. Also the Anti-Austerity / People Before Profit’s Richard Boyd Barrett’s comments were welcomed with applause.
Kenny and Burton attacked Martin and his record in government. The Fine Gael, Kenny, also ruled out the possibility of a coalition with Fianna Fail. Martin himself also targeted Adams’ past.