Martin fu­ri­ous over be­ing ex­cluded from RTÉ de­bate – while Taoiseach opts out

Irish Independent - - News / Debate The Eighth - Kevin Doyle Group Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

FIANNA FÁIL leader Micheál Martin is an­gry that RTÉ has de­clined to al­low him to par­tic­i­pate in a tele­vised de­bate on the ref­er­en­dum.

While Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar has ruled out go­ing headto-head with No cam­paign­ers, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Mr Martin told RTÉ ex­ec­u­tives three weeks ago that he was en­thu­si­as­tic about the idea.

Sources say there was con­sid­er­able an­noy­ance last Mon­day when it emerged the na­tional broad­caster in­vited Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDon­ald to be the po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Yes side on ‘Claire Byrne Live’.

One se­nior Fianna Fáil fig­ure sug­gested to the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent that RTÉ “had their own po­lit­i­cal rea­sons” for choos­ing Ms McDon­ald.

Water­ford Fianna Fáil TD Mary But­ler, who is to the fore­front of the Love Both campaign, was the po­lit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the No side dur­ing last Mon­day’s heated pro­gramme. RTÉ sources noted that it would be highly un­ortho­dox to have two politi­cians from the same party on op­po­site sides of a live de­bate.

Health Min­is­ter Si­mon Har­ris will rep­re­sent Fine Gael on next Tues­day’s ‘Prime Time’ de­bate.

Although say­ing he has been “very in­volved” in the cam- paign, the Taoiseach has opted out of de­bates. He will be in­ter­viewed one-to-one by Sean O’Rourke on ra­dio to­day.

Gov­ern­ment sources have ques­tioned who Mr Varad­kar’s chal­lenger would be, as it would not be nor­mal for a Taoiseach to de­bate with non-politi­cians.

All the lead­ers of the main po­lit­i­cal par­ties are back­ing a Yes vote.

Mr Martin ap­peared on last night’s ‘Six One News’ for a stand­alone in­ter­view and is ex­pected to be of­fered at least one ra­dio slot ahead of next Fri­day’s vote.

But a source close to the op­po­si­tion leader said: “We met with RTÉ and said he was avail­able. Then RTÉ went to Sinn Féin. They seem to want to put us in the No box to suit their own agenda.”

Fianna Fáil has the largest num­ber of TDs who op­pose re­peal­ing the Eighth Amend­ment – but the party hi­er­ar­chy be­lieves this should not ex­clude Mr Martin from the de­bates.

A spokesper­son for the broad­caster told the Ir­ish In­de­pen­dent: “Micheál Martin has to date fea­tured on var­i­ous RTÉ pro­grammes re­gard­ing the ref­er­en­dum, and will con­tinue to do so, in­clud­ing com­ing into RTÉ stu­dios for a live in­ter­view on the ‘Six One News’.”

Asked why Mr Martin has not been se­lected for any de­bate, the spokesper­son replied: “RTÉ news and cur­rent af­fairs does not com­ment on ed­i­to­rial de­ci­sions around guests fea­tured on its pro­grammes.”

The Fianna Fáil leader, who only backed re­peal­ing the Eighth for the first time this year, will be a pan­el­list on TV3’s ‘The Tonight Show’ next Wed­nes­day.

Mean­while, in the Dáil yes­ter­day, Tá­naiste Si­mon Coveney urged peo­ple to “look at the facts rather than the posters”.

“We must recog­nise that in any campaign as emo­tive and di­vi­sive as this campaign, one gets peo­ple who are des­per­ate to win an ar­gu­ment and may present the facts in a very emo­tive man­ner. I re­spect both sides in this ref­er­en­dum campaign,” he said.

Leo Varad­kar has opted out of de­bates ahead of ref­er­en­dum

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