#GE2020: Here's what you missed from the final Leaders' Debate
Polls open on Saturday, February 8.
Last night saw Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Fianna Fáil's Micheál Martin and - following an entirely last minute invite from RTÉ - Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald take to the studio for the final Leaders' Debate of election season.
This came after a Red C poll last weekend put Sinn Féin joint top alongside Fianna Fáil. This was soon followed by a second Irish Times poll this week that placed the party ahead of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
During last night's debate, McDonald argued that the electorate needed a new majority government.
"The worst outcome is Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil together again for the next four or five years," she said. "My objective is to sort out housing and to ensure that workers and families have a break."
Varadkar said that he would not be willing to enter into a coalition with Sinn Féin due to their "past." He would, however, negotiate a coalition with Fianna Fáil "as a last resort."
Martin said that it would not be possible for Sinn Féin to hold a majority government with just 42 candidates, but believes that Fianna Fáil would be able to lead alongside smaller parties.
Much of last night's housing discussion centred around home ownership and the building of houses.
Martin rightly described Ireland's housing crisis as the "burning issue" of the General Election, claiming that a Fianna Fáil government would prioritise affordable homes as well as council homes.
"We have to build more affordable homes directly in state land," he said, "and we have to build council houses as well on state land and more of them."
Varadkar defended Fine Gael's housing record, claiming that recent homelessness figures suggest that the issue has been improving.
McDonald admitted that Sinn Féin's aim to build 100,000 homes over the next five years is "ambitious," but added that such high figures are necessary in housing emergencies such as Ireland's.
Fianna Fáil leader @MichealMartinTD says when he goes out to talk to people, they are ashamed of Ireland, and of the fact so many young children are homeless | Live #GE2020 blog: https://t.co/mjahvjVWlx #rtept pic.twitter.com/AArTisCakN
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) February 4, 2020
Varadkar and Martin were both heavily critical of Sinn Féin's position on the Special Criminal Court, with the latter claiming that the party remained influenced by "old IRA comrades."
McDonald denied this claim and said that her party supports the judicial system and An Garda Síochána.
However, she failed to give her full support for the Special Criminal Court, a point which Varadkar said was because "she doesn’t want you to hear the answer."
Towards the end of the debate, host David McCullagh asked each party leader to detail the most serious political mistakes of their career.
Varadkar was quick to state that he believed "the country’s biggest political mistake would be to let Fianna Fáil or Sinn Féin lead the next government."
He later added that his own mistakes would probably include his "blunt" and potentially "insensitive" straight answers.
McDonald referenced Sinn Féin's poor performance in last year's local elections while adding that she could probably give a list of mistakes she had made in the past few years if needed.
Martin, without directly referencing Ireland's economic crash, stated that he had since learned to stand “against the herd” and to “listen more to the contrarian voice."
One of the lighter moments of the debate - second notes drop excluded - came when McDonald was asked how Sinn Féin would tackle the issue of pensions if retirement age isn't increased.
Arguing that the problem would rectify itself thanks to "demographics," McCullagh asked McDonald if she was "encouraging people to procreate?"
"Absolutely," she responded.
The General Election takes place on Saturday, February 8.