Coalitions, housing, and recreational drug use: key moments from the leaders' debate 1 month ago

Coalitions, housing, and recreational drug use: key moments from the leaders' debate

Incase you missed it, etc.

Coalitions, the housing crisis, and recreational drugs were the key points of contention during last night's leaders' debate.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin took to Virgin Media Studios on Wednesday evening for a 75 minute debate ahead of next month's General Election.

Moderated by Pat Kenny, the programme grilled the party leaders about many of the key issues facing Ireland in 2020 including homelessness, the housing crisis, crime, and the healthcare system.

Housing and homelessness

The issue of Ireland's extensive housing and homelessness crisis became an oddly personal one last night, as Varadkar argued that he and his party were indeed empathic to those who are struggling.

Kenny pointed to recent comments by homeless campaigners and criticism from the public regarding the Taoiseach's lack of empathy.

This came after Varadkar stated earlier this week that he successfully bought his own home "age 24 or 25" and that he wanted other people to have the same opportunity.

"I still remember the day when I got the deeds, turned the key in the door and sat on my own couch and watched my own TV," he told Matt Cooper. "And I want that to be attainable."

Varadkar's comments sparked much criticism, with many stating that he was out of touch with the general public.

The Taoiseach denied this claim in last night's debate, telling Kenny: “I know people say that about me, but I care deeply about the country and the problems that people face.

"I can’t put it into words as well as my opponent," he went on, "but I do it in actions."

"I show my empathy (...) Maybe I don’t say the right words, but I show them in the work that I do."

Martin then criticised Fine Gael's response to the housing crisis, stating: "They are short on targets by about 20,000.

"People can't save for houses because of the excessively high rents."

A new coalition?

Much of the criticism ahead of this first leaders' debate concerned the absence of Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald, an issue that was seemingly justified by the presumption that the debate involved the two biggest, opposing parties.

This, however, was called into question last night when Varadkar was asked whether he would "get together" and "reunite" with Fianna Fáil to form a coalition government.

The Taoiseach admitted that he would go into government with Fianna Fáil, although he would prefer to do so with Labour, the Green Party, or the Independents.

“If it is the case that people voted a certain way - and the only way we could form a stable government is for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to work together - I’m willing to do that," he said.

The trolley crisis 

Both past Ministers for Health, Kenny asked Varadkar and Martin what their impact on the current state of Ireland's healthcare system had been.

Varadkar said that he believed his government could fix the healthcare system over the next five years, and that he would work "extra hard" to do so.

"We have a reform plan for the HSE," he said. "We have a new deal with nurses to increase their pay and modernise the work they do.

"We are negotiating with consultants to give them a much higher salary."

Martin argued that the question was unfair and said that he made a "dramatic impact" during his time as Minister for Health.

"Obviously a long time ago..."

While discussing the issue of crime in the country, Kenny asked both Varadkar and Martin if they had ever taken recreational drugs in the past.

He stated that he was looking for an "honest answer," to which Martin responded that he had never done so.

Varadkar pointed to a Hot Press interview that he had done "10 or 12 years ago" in which he said that he had indeed answered the question then.

Kenny pressed Varadkar for an answer. After a three second pause, he replied: “Yes, but it was obviously a long time ago."

The next leaders' debate is expected to take place next Monday, February 3 on RTÉ One.