| 10.5°C Dublin

TV3 ignores Kenny's demand

Enda Kenny's tough-guy stance backfired last night when TV3 ignored his demands to remove Vincent Browne as moderator of TV3's party leaders' debate on Tuesday.

The FG leader threw himself into the first major controversy of the election campaign yesterday when he ruled out appearing on TV3 with Mr Browne.

But TV3 refused to back down and the debate will go ahead with or without Mr Kenny -- and the format for the debate with the other two party leaders will be negotiated over the coming days.

TV3's director of news Andrew Hanlon said the broadcaster had always planned to have Vincent Brown and Ursula Halligan present and moderate its election debates and nothing had changed.

Sources close to Mr Browne said last night that TV3 had offered to replace him with Ursula Halligan on Thursday but the three-leader debate was still not acceptable to Fine Gael.

However, Mr Hanlon refused to be drawn on speculation that an empty chair where Mr Kenny should have sat would be left on the set.

The other parties have taunted Mr Kenny and said he was afraid to appear with Micheal Martin and Eamon Gilmore.

Mr Kenny told reporters in Roscrea he would not be at any debate if Vincent Browne was chairing it.

He said: "Vincent Browne on his television programme advised that I, as leader of my party, should take a bottle of whiskey, a gun and go into a dark room.

"I have been in hundreds of homes around this country where the tragedy of suicide inflicted pain and stress and I will not participate on any programme that Vincent Browne has anything to do with."

Mr Kenny and Mr Browne clashed after the broadcaster's comments were made on TV3.

A complaint was made to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) but was rejected yesterday when it ruled that Mr Browne had already made a full and unreserved apology to viewers over the comments broadcast last September.


The broadcaster had also written to Mr Kenny to express regret for the remark, and this action had sufficiently remedied the matter, the BAI said.

The HSE body Headline aims to promote responsible coverage of suicide and had complained that the remarks were extremely insensitive and likely to cause harm and distress.

Mr Kenny is preparing to appear in a five-leader debate on RTE on St Valentine's Day and a three-way leaders' debate on RTE on February 22.

Both Fianna Fail and the Labour Party were last night trying to restrain their delight at what they saw as Mr Kenny's political own goal. A spokesman for the Labour Party said Mr Gilmore was surprised that Mr Kenny was refusing to appear on TV3's leaders' debate.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said: "As a leader of government, you have to be able to deal with tough negotiations in many forums."

Fine Gael director of elections Phil Hogan said: "Fine Gael would like to express its satisfaction that arrangements are being finalised regarding a televised five-way leaders' debate to be hosted by RTE on Monday, February 14."

He continued: "The hosting of a five-way debate is unprecedented and reflects my repeated calls for the leaders of all parties to be afforded the opportunity to discuss their policies."

Mr Kenny's attack on Mr Browne continues a bitter feud between the pair dating almost 30 years.

In the run-up to the January 1982 general election, Mr Browne lambasted the Fine Gael TD for doing nothing of note in his seven years in the Dail.

Still reeling from the attack, Mr Kenny hit back a year later during a debate on Dail reform.

"I remember having the doubtful fortune of appearing on a well-known television programme where a well-known journalist said of me: 'This guy purports to be a deputy, but he did not even speak in that Dail'.

"That Dail only lasted for a short time, but the journalist was right, I did not speak in this fashion in the chamber during that Dail. The number of people who commented on that fact was unbelievable," he said.

Irish Independent