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FINE Gael leader Enda Kenny scored a clear victory over his rivals last night as the party chiefs locked horns in round two of the live TV debates.

While none of the candidates claimed the spoils, experts agreed it was Deputy Kenny who won the fight hands down.

Analysts said he was "calm and composed", made no mistakes and enhanced his party's strong standing in the polls.

The RTE debate, which was hosted by Pat Kenny, opened with each man explaining their "meaningful and tangible" solutions to help Ireland's economy recover.

All five promised to create new jobs and introduce radical political reform with Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin claiming "the first test of political leadership is to accept that we have to radically change how we do politics in this country".

Deputy Kenny vowed to make Ireland the best small country to live and do business in by 2016.

The focus then shifted to the thousands of homeowners who face losing their houses when the failed banks that brought to the country to its knees are bailed out by the taxpayer.

Verbal blows were then exchanged as Mr Martin claimed that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams' figures didn't add up.

The former Foreign Affairs Minister said: "He [Adams] would be a great host of Late Late Show as every Friday there would be something for everyone in the audience."

Mr Adams hit back "that magician Paul Daniels couldn't do it better than Martin".

The Fianna Fail chief took another swipe at his opponent when he claimed the Louth candidate had no right to talk about fraud.

He said: "With the greatest respect, Gerry is the last man on this platform who can talk about fraud or anything like that given the baggage you come with to the panel.

"I don't take lectures from you. How dare you talk about fraud among politics and among people in the Republic after what went on over the last number of years? "You have no right. You should at least have some sense of humility about the whole situation.

"If you had been so zealous in rooting out fraud in Northern Ireland for quite a long time, we would be in a far better place."

Mr Adams insisted he had every right to debate fraud and he insisted the country was in a far better position because he "did his job".

He added: "Dead patriots would turn in their graves to see the mess of Ireland."

Labour's Eamon Gilmore also attacked Mr Martin claiming he was swanning around the country like the "great pretender".

The party leader, who came out fighting after last week's debate, urged voters not to forget that the Fianna Fail leader was "Bertie's great apprentice" and "Brian Cowen's salesman".

Disputes over how the impact of the IMF-EU loan package could be eased also sparked clashes.

Mr Martin said the behaviour of the banks was "appalling" and they had acted recklessly.

He added: "We have an obligation to the 1.8 million people in this country that we keep a banking system."

Green Party leader John Gormley claimed the Government had no other choice but to call in the EU/IMF. But Mr Kenny said it was an "obscenity and a scandal" that EUR100billion of taxpayers money was pumped into the banks because of Government incompetence.

Mr Gilmore said the EUR85billion deal was the "biggest robbery in this country and the banks robbed the people".

Mr Martin, Mr Kenny and Mr Gormley all admitted there is "no painless way" to slash EUR6billion in spending and admitted everyone will bear the brunt of the cuts.

Likely coalition partners Labour and Fine Gael also traded blows over their fiscal plans. Deputy Gilmore - who is the most popular party leader in the country - claimed there is a EUR5billion hole in the Fine Gael figures and quizzed Mr Kenny over his lack of growth estimates.

He hit back saying Labour was making bizarre statements.

The leaders battled it out on health with Mr Gormley claiming there is a two-tier health care system and the HSE has been a "monstrous experiment that has not worked".

Deputy Kenny attacked Mr Martin's time as Health Minister, saying patients died on waiting lists.

He added: "The health system has failed the Irish people and needs radical transformation". Mr Gilmore added: "It is unfair and immoral that people are treated based on how deep their pocket is."

He said he was sick of Mr Martin's "claptrap" and said the ex-Minister had 14 years in Government to change the system but failed.

Mr Martin put up a staunch defence of his Government and fought confidently when challenged on future policies - despite his supposedly weak debating skills.

The Fianna Fail leader, who said he could think of better ways to spend his Valentine's Day, said he hoped the debate will help voters decide on the issues and the promises.

He added: "I hope it can give the opportunity to the party leaders to put their political viewpoints on issues before the people and to respond to the questions that the public, through the audience, might like to ask."


SHAKE ON IT Eamon Gilmore, John Gormley, host Pat Kenny, Micheal Martin, Gerry Adams and Enda Kenny after last night's debate on RTE
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 15, 2011
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