The leaders of Ireland's four major parties have traded blows in the first live debate of the country's Feb. 26 election campaign.

Prime Minister Enda Kenny's centrist Fine Gael party seeks to retain power alongside his coalition partner for the past five years, the left-wing Labour Party of Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton. They teamed up in Thursday night's arguments against their two opponents: Micheal Martin of the Fianna Fail party and Gerry Adams of the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein.

Adams, a reputed longtime Irish Republican Army commander, spent much of the debate on the defensive over law and order — and specifically his pledge to close Ireland's special court for trying terrorist and mob cases. Others warned his plans would endanger jurors in IRA cases.