Michael Martin Seeks 'Leaders Debate'

The new Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin has called for American Presidential style debates between the three leaders of the main Irish parties.

In a speech given yesterday, shortly after he was elected leader of the Fianna Fail party, Mr Martin said the country needed an election that was as serious as the issues the parties must tackle and that could only happen if the leaders of the parties show a commitment to moving away from political business as usual.

"Central to this must be real debate between us about what our parties are proposing and what we can deliver in government. I have therefore already written to Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore asking them to join with me in agreeing to the most extensive and detailed series of debates yet seen in an Irish election," he said.

However, this morning, the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny ruled out the proposed three-way election debate but said he would be "quite happy" to engage in a five-way debate on any television station in either English or Irish.

Speaking in Dublin, Deputy Kenny said he will not exclude political leaders from any televised election debate.

Meanwhile, the leader of the Labour Party, Eamon Gilmore, said he has written to Micheal Martin, congratulating him on his election as Leader of Fianna Fail and saying that he found proposals made by him for a series of leader debates to be acceptable in principle.

In his letter Deputy Gilmore said: "As you will be aware I have been urging agreement on such a set of debates for almost a year and we have already had preliminary discussions with RTE and TV3 on this question.

"I agree in principle with the broad outline you propose for debates during the election campaign. It is now urgent that the three parties enter into discussions with each other and with the broadcasters to finalise logistical and other technical issues to allow the debates to proceed."

In his first speech as leader, Michael Martin said it was a great honour to have been elected to serve as the eighth leader of Fianna Fáil and that the party would offer a "radical and substantive programme of reform" in the February 25 election and work for it afterward.

"In the coming weeks we will have one of the most important general elections in our history. The next Dáil will make decisions, which will determine much about the future of our country.

"Some people appear to want a coronation rather than an election. Some suggest that it is all over before it has started. I can assure you that my party intends campaigning with energy and with fresh ideas.

"We intend to talk about the future of this country - about how the economy can be restored, jobs created and our system of politics and government fundamentally reformed."


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