Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein battle it out for title of leader of the Irish opposition

So did anyone see the great Micheal V Gerry fight on PrimeTime last night? RTE billed it as the ‘who truly is the leader of the Opposition?‘ gig. But at the end of the day it turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.

As Mary Murphy notes in the pre roll from Katie Hannon, Irish politics is generally geared to winning elections rather than making proposals for better government.

The lack of support for the re-introduction of a household charge from either party has to be a nod to the rural constituencies where suspicion of Dublin government is at it’s height…

It’s particularly odd coming from Fianna Fail, who first took delivery of the order to levy one from the Troika.

Yet considering they are targeting a lot of rural seats out west where they’re looking for a simple differentiator between them and the FG incumbents, who ‘stole’ them so recently, perhaps not so odd after all.

The debate was unruly at times. But we got a sense of the scale of the battle Fianna Fail is trying to prosecute. Mention of controversial cuts in the Deis school programme is a cut not at Adams, but Labour’s Education Minister Ruarai Quinn.

He also got in talking points for the aspirant middle class (who turned away from the party massively in Dublin) with reference to a whole raft high profile US companies and then suggesting that Sinn Fein’s wealth tax proposals would cripple the country (which is about the time all hell broke loose).

He also suggested that Sinn Fein’s proposed abolition of company group relief as ‘Corporation Tax by the back door’. Harsh, possibly unfair, but he got a message across.

In the dying moments of the contest, Adams produced the gift that’s been giving for nearly two years now, the reference to Martin’s position in power for nearly fourteen years.

But the FF leader flashed back Adams’ own unacknowledged role in the deaths caused by the IRA. Not pretty, certainly not original. But probably effective, and in all likelihood endlessly replicable.

Adams still does not do southern politics well. Martin may not be a prize fighter, but Adams looked like a boxer mouthing for air on a couple of occasions.

The lack of detail in his responses an indication that many of SF’s arguments are too general, and still a long way from battle ready.

The end was scrappy for both men. It may have looked like two bald men fighting over a comb, but we’ve seen a signal Fianna Fail’s phoney war is over.

That’s something we knew was coming at the conclusion of the referendum debates on the Fiscal Compact. That campaign was full of too many unforced errors from Sinn Fein.

Ultimately it may be unforced errors that circumscribe the difference in the near term fortunes between these two opposition parties. ‘All kinds of everything’ can win you a permanent seat at the ‘security council’ we call the Northern Ireland Executive.

But winning substantial political prizes in the Republic is a much more complex and demanding affair…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty