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'Dehumanising and heartbreaking': TFMR group complain to RTÉ over Claire Byrne Live debate

The broadcast has drawn criticism from a number of people.

A screengrab from last night's show.
A screengrab from last night's show.
Image: RTÉ

MEMBERS OF THE Termination For Medical Reasons (TFMR) group who were invited on to an RTÉ debate last night said they intend on complaining to the national broadcaster about how they were treated.

Last night, the broadcaster aired a referendum special of Claire Byrne Live. Members of TFMR Ireland were invited into the audience to talk about their experiences of receiving diagnoses of fatal foetal abnormalities.

The organisation was set up to provide support to families and also to advocate for a change to Irish laws so women in similar situations would not have to travel to the UK or further abroad for terminations.

The audience members from TFMR – who had been vetted by producers about what comments they wanted to make – were not spoken to despite panellists and commentators specifically talking about termination for medical reasons.

In a statement responding to criticisms, RTÉ said “it was made clear to every audience member in advance that there was no guarantee they would get to speak on the programme”.

Spokeswoman for TFMR Claire Cullen Delsol told TheJournal.ie that members of the advocacy group felt “dehumanised” after the show and were distraught they were not able to take part in the debate.

She said: “They sat all through it and while they waited with their hands up, there were people discussing them. They never got a chance to respond to what people in the audience were saying about them. I wasn’t there myself as I’m seven-and-a-half months pregnant.

I tried talking to them after the show last night but they were honestly too upset to do so. It was a genuinely heartbreaking moment to watch what was happening and for them not be given a voice – all the while there’s cheering and stamping of feet while someone is talking about the trauma of them losing their baby.

Cullen Delsol said there had been a lot of preparation from producers prior to the debate but has been in the dark since about what happened.

“We were told to bring our IDs and to let them know the questions and comments you are going to make. But when it started the production team didn’t seem to know who was who. There was Yes and No campaigners mixed in together shouting each other down. It was very intimidating. The way people were picked seem to be completely random.”

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald likened the debate to a football match and said that undecided voters would not have found the broadcast helpful.

She said: “I think it was very unhelpful. It wasn’t a football match. You weren’t togging out Team A versus Team B. This was an attempt to actually set out the facts and to make the pitch.

“Clearly there are different views. I don’t think it was helpful. I imagine for a lot of people looking on they were saying ‘that’s not what I need at this time’. So I think less of the whooping and more space given to people setting out their stalls and their own experiences. I think that would have been more helpful to people.”

A statement from RTÉ confirmed that complaints have already been made about the show.

A spokeswoman said: “Last night’s Claire Byrne Live Referendum Special gave both the Yes and No campaigns an equal opportunity to air their arguments, which both sides did passionately and trenchantly. The panel was composed of three speakers on each side of the argument and the audience was evenly divided between Yes and No.

“Impartial analysis of Claire Byrne Live Referendum Special will show that when the number of speakers on each side of the referendum question and the airtime afforded to them are both taken into account, the programme gave an equitable and fair opportunity to both sides to express their views.

While the programme did its best to include as many voices as it could, it was not possible to speak to everyone and it was made clear to every audience member in advance that there was no guarantee they would get to speak on the programme.

“RTÉ can confirm that it has received complaints about the broadcast on Monday night. In the interests of respect for the referendum process, the release of exact figures on complaints received by RTÉ about its coverage of the campaign will be deferred until after polling day. However, complaints about referendum coverage will receive prompt direct responses.

“650,000 viewers tuned in at some point during the programme on Monday night. The average audience increased by up to 53% as the broadcast continued. 359,000 viewers on average watched the full hour and a half programme live on RTÉ One, with additional viewers watching on RTÉ One + 1, RTÉ News Now and the RTÉ Player.”

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