Ivan Yates' rabid hosting may well have ruined Ireland's final seven-way debate 6 months ago

Ivan Yates' rabid hosting may well have ruined Ireland's final seven-way debate

With seven candidates on the stage, you'd expect that these old political rivals would be at each other's throats.

Such a bloody history behind them, you'd forgive some carnage, some chaos. Time is running out, too. With just over a week until the election, you'd allow for the frantic cross-talk, the raised voices.

There was a lot of that in the opening 15 minutes of Virgin Media's multi-party debate on Thursday night.

But whose voice is that? Which candidate is that I hear yelling? That doesn't sound like Leo. That doesn't sound like Micheál. Wait a minute. I know that voice. That's no candidate. That's Ivan Yates.

If you've ever watched an American political debate, you'll know that sometimes debates have two or three moderators, where the moderators take turns on asking about different topics. Yates and his co-host Matt Cooper struggled with that ballet.

Instead, their dynamic was a bit more like when your dad is tearing into a service worker who's done nothing wrong, and your mam is not saying anything, but you can tell she approves.

The night started with both of them at it.

Early in the night, Micheál Martin was interrupted twice within 30 seconds. When he pointed out that Cooper had interrupted him twice, Cooper said, "I have, and I might do it some more."

Cooper, to his credit, also worked hard to tether each candidate and keep the shouting-down to a minimum. Unfortunately, nobody gave him the leash for Ivan.

But it wasn't just that the interruptions were loud, and frequent. It's that they also betrayed a way of thinking that was inherently unhelpful to a debate about the state of the nation.

Yates borrowed Leo Varadkar's own soundbite on Sinn Féin, and opined that their policies are analogous to those of Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom.

Of course, there can be no sensible comparison between any Irish party and the politics of a man whose last three years have been dominated by his position on Brexit and nationalisation of various private industries (something that simply has not been discussed in this general election). That's leaving aside entirely the different political systems and institutions at play.

It was silly, and it was meant to be silly. Anyone familiar with Yates knows he likes to be silly sometimes.

When Solidarity TD Mick Barry called for the possibility of a strike in February, Yates said: "That's what you stand for, isn't it? Street politics!" The programme immediately cut to a break, depriving Barry of any right to respond. Unprofessionalism aside, it was also just a strange thing to pull Barry up on.

In case Yates has missed the memo, the pension age change proposed by his old party is wildly unpopular, and freedom of assembly is a constitutional right. Demonstrations are a pretty typical expression of democracy, and to treat them with a sneer is just strange.

On the matter of rent-freezes, Yates said "You could have Supreme Court justices deciding this rather than politicians," seemingly ignoring the reality that the Supreme Court is definitionally the only body in the country that can adjudicate as to constitutionality on any matter whatsoever.

Turning his gaze to Catherine Murphy, Yates asked if "the left" had any concerns about providing people with an incentive to work. It seemed, at times, as though he was representing the concerns of his own one-man constituency.

But, to be very fair to Yates, his anger was indiscriminate. He told Leo Varadkar that Eoghan Murphy's housing policy had been a "complete failure." He also told the Taoiseach he'd got it dead wrong on the RIC commemoration.

Eventually, it was Micheál Martin who had enough of Ivan's gnashing, saying "Calm it, Ivan. Just calm it." Yates gave a happy chuckle, looking pleased enough at how effectively he had turned the affair into the Ivan Yates Show.

Maybe the Wexford man's behaviour makes sense, though. One thing you can say in Ivan Yates' defence is that we're all angry.

When Yates teasingly cajoled Green Leader Eamon Ryan on which other party leader he "liked the most," Ryan snapped and said "Sorry Ivan, this is more important than that." It didn't get in Yates' way when he came to the ad-break, when he quipped about who Eamon would be "coupling up" when "Love Island" returned.

Clearly, the tranquilising word of god came through Yates' earpiece during an ad break to take Martin's advice. For the second half of the show, Yates took on a more respectful air, and candidates were no longer having their fingers clipped off as they reached for the oratorical biscuit tin.

It was a far cry from RTÉ's debate earlier in the week, where Claire Byrne's comparatively zen approach allowed the candidates to explore and explain their ideas.

Of course, the cost of that approach was that topics like healthcare, childcare and many more ended up entirely untouched. Tonight was more of a fury road - between border polls, Sláintecare, black and tans, landlordism, coalition partners, at least some discussion of mental health, carbon tax and more.

Still, it's hard not to think that many will have missed out on these discussions after switching the station during Yates' rabid opening half an hour.