RTÉ says debate was 'equitable and fair' to both sides after criticism from 'No' campaign

A behind the scenes row erupted after it emerged Love Both's Cora Sherlock was not taking part

RTÉ says debate was 'equitable and fair' to both sides after criticism from 'No' campaign

Photo. Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

RTÉ has defended its handling of last night's Eighth Amendment debate, after being accused by the 'No' side of interfering.

A behind the scenes row erupted only hours before the broadcast last night, after it emerged Love Both's Cora Sherlock was not taking part despite having previously been confirmed as a participant.

The 'No' side says it put forward the Iona Institute's Maria Steen as a replacement for Ms Sherlock for last night’s Prime Time debate, but the broadcaster refused.

Ultimately, Health Minister Simon Harris - who was due to be one of two 'Yes' supporters, alongside pro-repeal obstetrician Mary Higgins - and Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín went head-to-head, with no women on the main panel.

Speaking about the situation, RTÉ said it was 'disappointed' to learn Ms Sherlock was not available for the debate.

As well as the two panelists, the broadcaster noted the show saw 'substantial contributions' from the audience - which it says ensured 'an equitable and fair opportunity to both sides to express their views'.

On the subject of Ms Steen's participation, RTÉ said: "RTÉ Prime Time had 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 panelist on the Claire Byrne Live debate just a week previously. However the No campaign insisted that Maria Steen - who was a panelist on the Claire Byrne Live debate - was the only option it would put forward.

"In the interests of facilitating a wide range of voices and to maintain its editorial independence RTÉ Prime Time declined the offer of Ms Steen while making it clear that it was very open to other suggestions."

Reaction

In a statement in the early hours of this morning, Love Both claimed it was calling out RTÉ on what they described as a "slanted line-up".

Love Both said: "We felt RTÉ’s decision to invite a pro-repeal obstetrician on the panel and no medic from the pro-life side was utterly unacceptable. No serious effort was made by RTÉ to achieve balance on the panel."

In a video statement, Ms Sherlock thanked RTÉ for inviting her, but claimed: "I want to make it clear that at no stage did I pull out of this debate."

Addressing the pro-life campaign as a whole, she added: "Let's unite again as a movement... as we move into this final, critical stage before the referendum."

Spokesperson for Save the Eighth, John McGuirk claimed RTÉ had a responsibility to "accept the person put forward by the No campaign".

He also accused the national broadcaster of attempting to "rig the debate" by having an "obstetrician on one side, and a campaigner on the other".

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald - who is advocating for a Yes vote - stressed that Peadar Tóibín was not representing Sinn Féin during his appearance last night.

She observed: "Peadar wasn't representing Sinn Féin - Peadar was speaking for Peadar. So any questions, queries or observations on his performance - good, bad or indifferent - needs to be put to him".

Today marks the final day of referendum campaigning ahead of the broadcasting moratorium, which comes into effect from 2pm tomorrow afternoon until polls close at 10pm on Friday.