GREEN Party leader John Gormley's offer to fill in for Enda Kenny during the first leaders' debate of the election campaign was turned down last night.
The Fine Gael leader's podium was expected to be left empty until just before tonight's 8pm broadcast, as Mr Kenny was still refusing to turn up to debate with Eamon Gilmore and Micheal Martin.
Broadcaster TV3 also said it had yet to decide if Mr Kenny's podium would be left open for the entire debate, which was supposed to be a three-way hosted by Vincent Browne.
Mr Gormley yesterday claimed Mr Kenny encouraged him by text message to try and fill the empty slot but TV3 said they would not allow the Green leader on because the debate is between potential Taoisigh.
In an effort to be "helpful", Mr Gormley wrote to the station proposing himself as a "last minute" replacement.
Mr Gormley said his party had always argued that a five-way leaders' debate was the best option, adding: "Hearing from all five leaders on the same footing is the best way." Mr Kenny, who is holding a public rally in Co Leitrim this evening, said he would instead participate in a five-way debate on RTE, a three-way debate shared between all broadcasters and a debate in Irish.
Last night, both Mr Martin and Mr Gilmore again asked Mr Kenny to reconsider his decision. Mr Martin called the FG leader's stance "ridiculous" and "farcical".
"I look forward to my participation in the five-way debate, in the three-way debate and in the diospoireacht tri Ghaeilge," Mr Kenny said yesterday.
"Political leadership is not about wimps, it's about courage, it's about belief, it's about conviction." Mr Browne yesterday accused Mr Kenny of "cooking up" an excuse to get out of the debate. Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams described the controversy as "a pain in the ass".