Fine Gael digs its heels in ahead of TV debate on Seanad
NEGOTIATIONS on the line-up for tonight's live TV debate on the Seanad abolition referendum are still dragging on, amid a row over the format.
Fine Gael wants non-politicians to be included on the podium for the debate on RTE's 'Prime Time'.
But the national broadcaster is pushing for a head-to-head between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail with other campaigners in the audience.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny declined the invitation to participate, with Fine Gael promising to send a representative.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin will attend, representing the 'No' campaign.
Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, the Fine Gael director of elections, is expected to be his opponent, but the party is playing hardball with producers.
The party's deputy campaign director Regina Doherty is also being mentioned. Fine Gael argues non-party campaigners on the 'Yes' and 'No' sides should be on the podium.
During the EU fiscal treaty referendum, the live television debate saw Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore and businesswoman Norah Casey take on Sinn Fein's Mary-Lou McDonald and businessman Declan Ganley.
"We are surprised RTE would seek to exclude non-political party campaigners from the panel. On the 'No' side, the non-political voices have been more important than the parties," a Fine Gael source said.
"It's surprising RTE have decided to make FF the sole representative of the 'No' side. Given his various positions on the Seanad, he won't know what podium to stand on."
Mr Martin admitted the final week of the Seanad campaign would be "difficult and challenging" but he said Irish people needed to understand the consequences of their vote.
"The danger is that if we abolish the Seanad, we will be left with the weakest parliament in Europe," he added.
Mr Martin's comments came as he denied that his party's opposition was now "a lost cause" with polls indicating the upper house will be abolished.
Mr Kenny has urged voters not to be deflected from the key message that the Seanad is not fit for purpose.