Wtf, as they say on Facebook and other places. Or “What the fuck?” as I sometimes say to my nearest and dearest. I said it again last night, not after the leaders’ debate on TV, but after watching the response to the leaders’ debate on RTÉ’s The Eleventh Hour , which featured Keelin Shanley with what she called “a panel of dispassionate political journalists” – Sam Smyth, Katie Hannon and Michael Clifford.
Like most people, I’d been watching the debate with an eye on two people in particular: Enda Kenny, to see if he would put his foot in it now he’d finally agreed to appear on a TV debate; and Gerry Adams, to see if he would repeat his 2007 debate performance, which was widely adjudged to have been not his finest hour. What I saw was Enda Kenny performing pretty well: on occasion he looked a bit physically small, even wan, but in his exchanges with Eamon Gilmore he clearly triumphed. Gerry Adams seemed a bit nervous, drinking an amount of water and moving his feet around, but in his contributions he was clear, concrete and specific – a world away from his exchange with Michael McDowell in 2007.
So then I tune into The Eleventh Hour’s dispassionate trio. What, I repeat, the fuck? Sam Smyth judged Enda Kenny to have done really well, but as for Gerry Adams: “What was he doing there? He really doesn’t know anything about economics”. Katie Hannon said Kenny did really well, but Micheal Martin landed "killer punches” on Gerry Adams. Michael Clifford said Enda Kenny was very good, while Gerry Adams simply trotted out stock phrases and his sums didn’t add up. Keelin Shanley agreed and showed two points in the debate where Martin attacked Adams. For some reason, Adams’s response in both cases had been edited out.
What the fuck, I murmured to myself. So I switched to Vincent Browne Tonight on TV3. He has four panellists. All four declared that Adams did very well and Browne himself agreed. The Irish Times this morning figured Adams was fluid and had a command of detail; even its ghastly columnist Miriam Lord conceded that Adams did very well, more than held his own. On RTÉ radio this morning, commentators agreed that Adams had put in a very effective performance.
So wtf? Why this chasm between the response from the Dispassionates on The Eleventh Hour and that from everywhere else? You tell me. But please: don’t tell me The Eleventh Hour response had something to do with Sam Smyth’s insistence a week or so ago that Gerry Adams would be a disaster in the televised debate. That would suggest that the programme made a frantic effort to spin the event so it fitted into Sam’s cock-eyed prophecy and that, if true, would open up an appalling vista. Wouldn’t it?