'Mexican stand-off' at Montrose: RTÉ 'disappointed' Cora Sherlock 'unavailable' for final TV debate
- Row breaks out with just hours to go
- RTE reduces two-a-side debate to just two people at last-minute
- Miriam O'Callaghan acknowledges absence of female panelists from final TV debate
RTÉ have said in a statement they were "disappointed" to learn that Cora Sherlock was unavailable to take part in the final televised debate ahead of Friday's referendum.
A row broke out between the 'No' campaign and RTÉ just hours ahead of the debate when Cora Sherlock pulled out.
The broadcaster was on Tuesday evening trying to find somebody to debate Health Minister Simon Harris after the solicitor withdrew from the ‘Prime Time’ programme.
It is understood the 'No' side wanted to substitute Ms Sherlock with the Iona Institute’s Maria Steen, who was widely seen as the star performer during last week’s ‘Claire Byrne Live’ debate.
Sources described the situation as a 'Mexican stand-off' with just hours to air.
In a statement released on Facebook last night, Ms Sherlock thanked RTÉ for offering her a slot on Prime Time before claiming she did not withdraw from the broadcast.
We'll be bringing the @loveboth8 podium to our press events for the rest of the campaign to remind @SimonHarrisTD that now he has accepted our challenge, he only has to name the time and the place for a debate with us. #LoveBothVoteNo #8thref pic.twitter.com/GdompLNRyK— Cora Sherlock (@CoraSherlock) May 3, 2018
"For the avoidance of doubt I want to make it clear that at no stage did I pull out of this debate," she said before calling on the No campaign to "unite again as a movement".
The 'No' camp insisted there is no falling out between the various groups, including Love Both and Savethe8th.
Speaking to Independent.ie this morning, an RTÉ spokesperson said: "RTÉ was disappointed to learn that Cora Sherlock was unavailable to take part in last night’s RTÉ Prime Time programme, despite confirming her participation last week.
"The television debate on the referendum continued with the panel of Minister for Health Simon Harris and Peadar Tóibín TD, in addition to substantial contributions from the audience, which gave an equitable and fair opportunity to both sides to express their views."
Earlier, barrister Ben O Floinn told Independent.ie: "I can confirm that the joint nominee of all 'No' group is Maria Steen for tonight’s programme.
"I have been asked by all the groups to press for her inclusion. RTÉ Prime Time are resisting this."
The programme began this evening with Health Minister Simon Harris speaking for the 'Yes' side standing opposite Sinn Féin TD Peadar Toíbín who is anti-repeal of the Eighth Amendment.
At the beginning of the programme, presenter Miriam O'Callaghan acknowledged the absence of any female panelists.
"We were to be joined by two women," Ms O'Callaghan said.
"But unfortunately Cora Sherlock pulled out and, for reasons of balance, we had to reduce to two people."
RTÉ’s objection to Ms Steen is based on her participation in a similar debate last week. It is understood the broadcaster has also taken issue with the idea that either side of the debate would dictate their line-up.
However, 'No' campaigners are arguing that Dr Peter Boylan was allowed to take part in both debates on the Late Late Show and Claire Byrne Live.