the show must go on

Each side playing the blame game as fallout from the Prime Time debate no-show rolls over

Cora Sherlock has denied pulling out of last night’s Prime Time debate.

PastedImage-9319 The RTÉ Prime Time referendum debate last night. RTÉ Player RTÉ Player

Updated 1.45 pm

THE SAVE THE 8th campaign group is accusing RTÉ of trying to “intervene” in the referendum debate and tell No campaigners who can appear on RTÉ.

The accusation comes after confusion yesterday that led to a planned two-on-two abortion debate becoming a one-one-one with two male politicians.

Ahead of Prime Time’s referendum debate last night, RTÉ said that Love Both spokesperson Cora Sherlock pulled out of the debate. Sherlock claims this is not the case.

The Prime Time debate went ahead featuring Minister Simon Harris and Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín and was watched by 738,000 viewers, almost half of whom watched the full show.

statement tweeted by the managing director of RTÉ News Jon Williams last night said that RTÉ was informed that Sherlock would not be taking part in the debate “despite confirming her participation last week”.

Save 751_90544578 Sam Boal via Sam Boal via

Speaking today, Save the 8th spokesperson John McGuirk claimed that Sherlock had agreed to go on the debate “in principle” but that the collective No campaign wanted the Iona Institute’s Maria Steen to go on instead.

“RTÉ decided last week that they were going to hand-pick panellists, so it was never a question of one campaign or another being asked for someone because they were going to handpick them,” McGuirk said this morning.

And one of the things they did was to say there’d be an obstetrician on one side, a senior doctor, on one side of the debate. And no obstetrician from the No side. So there’s an inherent imbalance there.

Speaking about yesterday’s confusion, McGuirk said:

Yesterday the three campaigns, having spoken to each other, Iona, Love Both and ourselves, all agreed that Maria Steen was the person that we wished to represent us at the debate. And RTÉ went to the lengths of literally saying that we will have any woman in the country who is not Maria Steen.

“RTÉ tried to intervene and tried to tell the collective No campaign who should speak on their behalf,” he added.

“In relation to Cora, what she said is that she was happy in principle as a person to do the debate. And by the way we would have been happy for her to do the debate.”

McGuirk said that the position of the three groups yesterday was that if they were not allowed to send their nominated person to the debate they would not send anyone.

Asked about McGuirk’s claims today, RTÉ reiterated that Sherlock had confirmed her participation in the show last week.

A statement 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 (a lawyer) – 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.

“RTÉ at all times maintains editorial control of what content it broadcasts,” the statement added.

Despite Sherlock and Steen’s absence, the Prime Time debate went ahead featuring Harris and Tóibín with host Miriam O’Callaghan explaining Sherlock’s absence.

“I would like to say that we were to be joined by two women on this panel but unfortunately Cora Sherlock of the No campaign pulled out and for balance we had to reduce it to two,” O’Callaghan stated.

8th referendum 761_90545614 Save the 8th communications director John McGuirk Sam Boal / Sam Boal / /

Following the non-appearance by Sherlock on the RTÉ show, the campaigner appeared in a video published last night by and denied that she had “pulled out” of the debate.

Sherlock did not explain her absence from the debate but asked her supporters not to “worry about headlines”.

“I wish to speak to the pro-life movement in Ireland. Firstly, I’d like to thank RTÉ for offering me a place on their debate this evening, Peadar Toibín is one on the most honourable and gifted politicians we have, and I know he’s doing a fantastic job defending the Eighth Amendment,” she said.

I’d also like to commend RTÉ for taking doctors off their panels and for recognising that this is not a debate about maternal healthcare, that this is a debate about abortion on demand.

“For the avoidance of doubt I want to make it clear that at no stage did I pull out of this debate. There’s been a lot of noise today, but please don’t worry about headlines.”

Sherlock was not present at a Love Both media event in Dublin this morning in which a number of parents and affected parties defended the Eighth Amendment.

A number of spokespersons for the group denied that there had been a falling out with Sherlock and insisted she remained a spokesperson for the group.

Katie Ascough said she did not have specific details about Sherlock’s no-show but said she was not involved in the decision.

“We are united in our goal and hopeful and confident for a No vote,” she told reporters.

PastedImage-23379 Twitter / @TV3Ireland Twitter / @TV3Ireland / @TV3Ireland

TV3 is set to host another referendum debate later tonight that will be hosted by Pat Kenny.

It has now been confirmed that Steen will appear on the show after withdrawing from the programme last night.

But this morning TV3 confirmed that Steen, who’s a lawyer and a prominent No campaigner, would appear on The Pat Kenny Show Referendum Special.

Save the 8th said today that she initially pulled out of the show because they wanted her to appear on Prime Time last night.

Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty Ireland, and Senator Rónán Mullen will also feature on tonight’s TV3 show, which airs at 10pm.

- with reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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