“I could think of better ways of spending St Valentine’s night,” Micheal Martin, the Fianna Fail leader quipped before last night’s Frontline leaders debate on RTE.
Few viewers who stuck it out to the bitter end of the night would have disagreed.
The stars of the marathon 90-minute debate were the audience, picked as a representative sample of the Irish electorate by a polling company.
Listening to their questions the dull awfulness of post-boom Ireland sunk home.
A father’s three sons had emigrated, two to England and one to the Middle East, and he wondered if they or his grandchildren could ever return.
A GAA Meath car park was once packed with builders vans and big cars. Now it was nearly empty, people shared lifts or had moved away.
All the questions expressed the same concern, how will we live under this mountain of debt?
There were no easy answers from the leaders of the five parties with representation in the Dail who stood facing the music in their best suits.
Nobody wanted to take a risk.
The only party whose ratings went up after last week’s leaders’ debate on TV3 was Fine Gael, and their leader, Enda Kenny, had refused to take part.
He was there last night, sitting on 38%, and a racing certainty for the post of Taoiseach.
It might be a poisoned chalice
but it was his to lose, and he managed to make no major gaffes as he delivered harsh truths in an even manner.
“Who will suffer from the next cuts?” he was asked.
“Everyone will suffer, it has started already,” he replied.
He inflicted some damage on Eamon Gilmore, the Labour leader and his likely partner in government who is falling in the polls, deriding his economic policy.
He barely took notice of Gerry Adams or John Gormley of the Greens, the radical edge knocked off him by his years in government, as the economy plummeted.
When Mr Adams condemned cronyism and corruption Mr Martin flashed back: “Gerry is the last man on this platform to talk about corruption.”