Head-to-head: How did the seven party leaders fare in RTÉ’s election debate

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After a two hour long RTÉ debate from NUI Galway, we assess how each of the party leaders fared as General Election 2020 edges closer. Here are their marks out of 10:

LEO VARADKAR: 5/10

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was a low key presence for much of the first half of the debate and was outshone by Micheál Martin in attacks on Sinn Féin. But he deftly got over his drugs slip-up from the first debate quipping: «I’ll try to avoid a long pause this time».

He also drew a laugh when asked about one of his ministers branding some in the Green Party as «nutters» saying: «There’s a fair few nutters in every party including my own.»

MICHEÁL MARTIN: 7/10

The Fianna Fail leader started off strong by highlighting serious concerns about Sinn Fein’s objection to special criminal court because of their links to the provisional IRA.

However, he did seem under pressure when Mary Lou McDonald attacked him for supporting Fine Gael and failing to securing his promised housing budgets. But over all it was a solid performance.

MARY LOU MCDONALD: 5/10

The Sinn Féin leader was on shaky ground when she compared her Ard Comhairle to a GAA club especially after Mr Martin highlighted her party’s links to the Provisional IRA. She did receive applause from the audience during the section on housing when she criticised Mr Martin and when she criticised the Taoiseach over the National Children’s Hospital.

EAMON RYAN: 4/10

The Green Party’s Eamon Ryan was his usual thoughtful, reasoned presence, but in all likelihood bored the audience with rambling answers on housing and crime. He faces an uphill battle persuading farmers they can cut suckler cattle herds, change practices and make greater incomes.

BRENDAN HOWLIN: 4/10

Brendan Howlin made a bid to get into the debate when he complained that the focus was on Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s rejection of a coalition deal with Sinn Féin. But it only served to highlight a depleted Labour’s own likely lack of clout in the post election deal-making.

RICHARD BOYD BARRETT: 4/10

The audience seemed to take to the People Before Profit TD especially when he was critical of the banks and Nama. However, he did seems to be playing catch up on the other left wing parties when he was trying to offer alternative polices.

RÓISÍN SHORTALL: 3/10

Róisín Shortall was all but invisible for large periods of the debate. She was perhaps strongest when outlining the «barbarity» of the serious crime on Ireland’s streets in recent weeks.

She argued that people want decent services and lists problems in health, housing and homelessness but the solutions being put forward by her party didn’t get much more than polite applause at the end of the night.

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