Kenny suggests five-way TV debate

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has called for a five-way debate between leaders of the main political parties ahead of the general election, the Irish Independent reports.

New Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin kicked off his campaign yesterday with invites to Kenny and Labour's Eamon Gilmore for three-way live television showdowns.

But the Fine Gael leader warned that no major party should be excluded in the current political climate.

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"It appears as if Deputy Martin wants to stay for the duration of the campaign in the studio," Mr Kenny said.

"The reason for that is that Fianna Fail campaigners do not want to knock on the doors of the houses of people whose lives have been ruined up and down the country."

Fianna Fail are languishing near the bottom of opinion polls and face the daunting challenge of going head-to-head with Sinn Fein to be the third biggest party in the Dail.

At 14pc, their rating is a record low with the next Red C poll due to be published this weekend.

Fine Gael head the polls, with Labour in second, but Gilmore is consistently ranked the country's most popular leader.

Martin has proposed at least five debates spread out over the four-week campaign before the expected February 25 election. He suggested they would be broadcast on RTE, TV3 and one debate in Irish on TG4. Sky TV is also trying to get in on the act.

He wanted two three-way debates - Fianna Fail, Fine Gael and Labour - and also head-to-heads between the main leaders.

Fine Gael insiders are keen to expand the format to include Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and Green leader John Gormley.

Martin's letter, sent to Fine Gael and Labour after his resounding election success yesterday, claimed that previous debates had been too conservative.

He also contended that repeated head-to-head TV appearances would focus the campaign on policies rather than soundbites.

Gilmore was quick to accept the challenge. Mr Kenny's party initially stood back before suggesting the new approach should not be limited to the three traditionally strongest parties and urged his opponents to open it up to all realistic challengers.

A Fine Gael source said: "The indications are that Eamon Gilmore wants to keep Gerry Adams out of the debate.

"It's quite evident that there's some competition on that side of the spectrum.

"But we're not into excluding anybody.

"To interpret that as ruling out a three-way debate is inaccurate. But in the current political spectrum, it's just not feasible and it should be a five-way debate.”