Saturday 19 October 2019

Final Results

Repeal the Eighth Amendment?

Yes 66.40% 1,429,981

No 33.60% 723,632

  • Constituencies declared: 40/40

Referendum Hub

No movement claims RTÉ was intent on derailing its campaign in live debate

Cora Sherlock
Cora Sherlock

Kevin Doyle and Shona Murray

No campaigners believe RTÉ attempted to thwart their efforts to win the referendum by doing "what they did to Sean Gallagher".

The broadcaster is facing accusations it refused to allow the anti-abortion groups to select their candidate for Tuesday's televised debate at the behest of the Government.

Savethe8th spokesman John McGuirk launched a blistering attack on RTÉ, questioning why people are required to pay a TV licence.

He alleged it was willing to "have any woman in the country who is not Maria Steen" take part in the debate with Sinn Féin's Peadar Toíbín against Health Minister Simon Harris and consultant obstetrician Mary Higgins.

Solicitor Cora Sherlock, of the Pro-Life Campaign, was originally announced as the female No representative, but withdrew just hours before the show went to air.

Ms Higgins was ultimately demoted to the audience, leaving the two male politicians to debate head to head. Such was the backlash from the No side that RTÉ issued two statements in less than 24 hours, arguing the programme "gave an equitable and fair opportunity to both sides to express their views".

The Irish Independent understands the broadcaster's head of news Jon Williams and director general Dee Forbes were consulted as the row developed on Tuesday night. Even though it meant presenter Miriam O'Callaghan was forced to alert viewers to the fact there were no female speakers on the main stage, a decision was taken that RTÉ could not allow its editorial independence to be challenged.

Editors did not want Ms Steen to be central to the debate as she had already taken part in the 'Claire Byrne Live' debate last week. Mr Harris said he had no issue with who took part in the debate - but noted that Ms Sherlock had repeatedly called for him to go head to head with her.

"It's something that Cora will never say but I respect her choice; and she chose not to take part in the debate last night," he said.

"Yes, she sent me a letter, yes she sent me a petition, and yes she used to carry around a podium with my name on it, asking where I was. Well, I was in RTÉ at 9.35 last night asking to debate the issues."

Mr McGuirk said yesterday the dispute had begun last week when the No group complained it was unfair for only the Yes side to have a doctor on the stage.

"The fact they tried to put an obstetrician on one side and somebody who is not an obstetrician on the other side was in our view a material interference in the debate," he said.

RTÉ sources responded there was no legal representative on the Yes side - but both parties had been told they could have medical and legal supporters speak from the audience.

Mr McGuirk claimed RTÉ was trying "to do to us in this referendum what they did to Sean Gallagher".

Mr Gallagher was leading the polls in the 2011 presidential election until after the final TV debate when presenter Pat Kenny read out a tweet from a fake Twitter account.

It claimed a man who had given a €5,000 cheque to Mr Gallagher would appear at a press conference the next day.

Mr Gallagher lost the subsequent election, finishing behind Michael D Higgins. Just last year RTÉ settled a court action and apologised for using the Tweet.

Mr McGuirk said: "In nearly every major referendum or election we've had in nearly the last decade there has been some stroke or some interference by RTÉ in relation to the debate. Sean Gallagher is the most high-profile example of that."

RTÉ said it informed the No campaign "from the outset that the panel on the RTÉ 'Prime Time' debate would not include anyone who had already been a panellist on the 'Claire Byrne Live' debate just a week previously".

Irish Independent

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