While the RTE Leaders Debate was being broadcast live on Tuesday night, an alternative debate was taking place online.
The Real Debate – a podcast/streaming event – was offering the electorate several different opinions and views from across the political spectrum.
With contributions from members of both the judiciary and the legislature, as well as from policy makers, campaigners and commentators, The Real Debate discussed topics such as housing, health, banking, vulture funds, radical political change, public accountability, collective solutions and many others.
The idea for this streaming event emerged from the growing frustration of large sections of the Irish electorate following RTE’s decision to initially only invite leaders of the two main parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, who between them represent less than 50% of the electorate.
Even though RTE decided on Monday to invite Mary Lou McDonald, for Sinn Fein, to take part in the Leaders Debate, the organisers of The Real Debate decided to go ahead with their event and subsequently release it to the public following RTE’s offering on Tuesday night.
Set up as a collaboration between several organisations, including Right2Homes, HomeOptions, and ourselves, Dublin Gazette, as a media partner, The Real Debate set out to offer the other 52% of voters a debate.
One of the moderators on Tuesday, Donagh McKeown, told Dublin Gazette why he was so keen to be involved.
He said: “Whether you take the word of the numerous surveys and polls by ‘official’ groups, or take your own straw poll with folks on the street, you’ll soon see that both will lead with deep concerns, firstly about health, and the health service in Ireland.
“More than 50% [of people] in collective polling say that’s their number-one concern, with housing coming second, and in that mix comes the plight of the homeless.
“Calls for increased affordable housing are being heard at every doorstep, from the inner cities to our most rural areas.
“Deep in the Irish psyche, there’s the desire to own one’s own home.
“Many people are also deeply concerned for the growing numbers of homeless people who now roam our streets.
“Once again, perhaps subconsciously, there’s a collective memory of famine and eviction that’s within, and the frustration of a lack of meaningful reform or action from politicians to change the system is rising.
“Combine this with the continuously circling wake of vulture funds preying on the threatened homeowners,” he said.
Donagh added: “There’s a growing belief in the electorate that they have the power in this and future elections to bring about change.
“In this election, there’s a strong wave for social change; true re-engagement with the disenfranchised.
“There’s a strong move of support away from the Centrist parties, with an almost tsunami level of support moving to more socially democratic-leaning parties, with Sinn Fein rising, in polls at least, leading that movement for change.”
Another contributor on the night was property developer Paddy Kelly who shared his ideas on how to stimulate house building nationwide.
He said: “We need a better awareness of the cyclical nature of the building and development industry.
“Annual housing completions went from an annual high of 94,000 to a low of 5,000 in the decade ending in 2008.
“In the decade ending in 2018, there was an average of 10,000 homes completed annually – with a low of 5,000 in some years – and the industry almost closed down.
“Uncertainty and delay needs to be taken out of the planning process. Zoned Land needs to be provided.
“We need a policy for dealing with third-party objections – it’s estimated that approximately 40% of the cost of a new home is government tax.
“There should be policy change whereby the VAT at 13.5% is passed back by the government to first-time buyers.
“In the UK, there are a number of support systems for first-time buyers which we should look at adopting.
“Create building capacity by advancing professional training for the various groups involved and advance knowledge in regard to building methods and materials,” he said.
You can find The Real Debate on YouTube (search using #therealdebate, with the video posted under user Sean O Cearrullain), as well as on Facebook or Twitter pages (using #RealDebateIreland).