RTÉ open to a 'change of heart' on decision to exclude Mary Lou from Prime Time debate

RTÉ open to a 'change of heart' on decision to exclude Mary Lou from Prime Time debate
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald during a press brieifngPhoto:Gareth Chaney/Collins

RTÉ has indicated that it could include Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald in a televised debate, days before the electorate go to the polls.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar are set to go head-to-head on Prime Time on Tuesday.

The line-up has been criticised by Sinn Fein, which says that its party leader should also be allowed to take part in the final televised debate.

After Sinn Fein saw a surge in its support in the latest opinion poll, the party has formally requested that Ms McDonald be permitted to participate.

According to the latest Sunday Business Post/Red C poll, Sinn Fein is on 24%, up 3% on last week.

The poll shows that Fianna Fáil is down two points to 24%, while Fine Gael is down two points to 21%.

RTÉ issued a statement on Sunday saying it will listen to suggestions regarding its election coverage.

"At the outset of the election RTÉ set out its approach to leaders' debates based on empirical data," the statement added.

"That has not changed. Throughout the campaign RTÉ has considered representations made by those contesting the election regarding our coverage and leaders' debates.

"We will continue to give consideration to any representation made," it added.

Sinn Fein's finance spokesman Pearse Doherty made the formal request to RTÉ, claiming the recent polls prove that the criteria used to exclude her were "redundant".

RTÉ told Sinn Fein it would consider what he had to say on Monday.

Mr Varadkar said he had never had an objection to Ms McDonald's participation in the debate.

Speaking to the media in Athlone, he said: "I think it would be useful to take such an opportunity to scrutinise Sinn Fein policies a bit more.

"I've never had any objection to including Mary Lou McDonald in the debate and I've made that clear from the very start.

"It is a matter for the broadcasters so it is their decision to make.

"As I've said before, and I'll say again, I have no objection to Mary Lou McDonald taking part in the debate and that's a matter for the broadcasters."

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