I went wrong three times trying to find the hotel in Limerick where we would be staying on Monday night after the leaders’ debate. I could see the building I was trying to reach, but it took two spins around the roundabout and one wrong turn before I got there.

It’s true to my form when I have lots on my mind – something has to give and in this instance it was my navigation skills. Having eventually checked in and thrown my bag in the room, I went to the University of Limerick to meet the team and make our final preparations. We had a makeshift office which looked directly down into the Concert Hall and gave us a bird’s eye view of the construction of the set where we would go to work at 9.35 that night. It all became very real at that moment

Limerick Prod Office

At that stage we had the hard work done. We had been through the manifestos and were ready to explore the issues that our audience wanted examined with the leaders. The team on the show had invested so much into this and I knew it was up to me to deliver the fruits of their labour on the night. While that is pressure in itself, it’s also my job and just as they had done their bit, now I had to do mine. At the forefront of my mind going into any show, is that I am representing the views of the people at home. We are the one who will be voting, we are the ones who need to be able to decide with clarity around party policies, exactly where to put that tick on the ballot paper. I wanted to be the voter on Monday night and I wanted to ask the questions that they would all have asked had they been in my shoes. You’ll never get that perfectly right, but I was going to have a damn good shot at it.

As the clock ticked down, I took a final look out of the office onto the set below. After all of the activity earlier, it was suddenly calm and like the night before Christmas, that eerie stillness had set in. We were ready.

The leaders started to arrive as I made my way down to the stage and then the audience took their seats. We all came together for a group photograph and the broad smiles belied the adrenaline-fuelled nervousness I’m sure each and every one of us felt at that time.

Limerick Panel

The red light finally went on the show got underway. The time seemed to fly past and in what seemed like minutes, we were into the heat of battle.

After the show ended, I made my way back to the office and checked in with my family – they had sent 73 messages in our Viber group during the show, proving that the debate wasn’t restricted to the stage! I was back in my jeans and in the car before I knew it and heading back to the hotel.

True to form once again, I drove aimlessly around the University of Limerick campus for about ten minutes, hopelessly lost, before finding the right road. Outside the hotel, there were groups of teenagers done up like the Kardashians on a night out. Life goes on – even when the political stakes are high.

Huge thanks to the University of Limerick staff, students and volunteers for their warm welcome, and their sterling work in facilitating the programme.

 

Watch Claire Byrne Live every Monday at 10.35pm on RTÉ One

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