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Pat Kenny says he's opposed to censoring people as he prepares to host Peter Casey debate

Kenny presented a presidential debate featuring Casey last year.

Kenny during last year's presidential debate.
Kenny during last year's presidential debate.
Image: Virgin Media

PAT KENNY HAS said that he is “used to Peter Casey” as he prepares to host another television debate with the European election candidate.

Kenny hosted the Virgin Media One debate in October last year when Casey, then a presidential candidate, doubled down controversial comments he made about Travellers and their ethnicity.

Ahead of that debate, the most recent poll had put support for Casey at 2%. In the presidential election a week later Casey won 23% of the vote and the media were criticised in some quarters for amplifying Casey’s message.

Speaking today as Virgin Media One announced its European elections debate schedule, Kenny said he was opposed to denying people space to speak.

“I’m always in favour of space for voices but the voices have to be challenged, that’s the key. If you start to in some ways try to censor people or deny people the right to say things, they will say it in some other forum or some other way,” he said.

Kenny made the comparison with the Section 31 broadcast ban which prevented Sinn Féin voices being on RTÉ during the Troubles. The veteran broadcaster said this approach has proven to be unsuccessful.

There were always ways in which that view would be articulated on air. People who were not in Provos, who were not in Sinn Féin but agreed with all of those views and they would espouse them on air. So you’d much prefer to talk to the relevant person rather than the person who’s there by proxy.

In any event, Kenny says he doesn’t feel Casey’s performance in the presidential election was all down to his criticism of Travellers.

If you didn’t want Michael D Higgins you were left with the rest and I think a lot of the vote that went to Peter was: ‘I don’t really want to give Michael D Higgins another seven years’.

“The other candidates in various ways evaporated. Gavin didn’t seem to know why he was there at the end of the day, Liadh Ní Ríada made a few strategic gaps along the way and Peter was, if you like, the last man standing who was making any kind of noise.”

0023 Virgin Media_90561997 Matt Cooper & Ivan Yates will begin their election specials this evening. Source: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Virgin Media One is hosting debates across Pat Kenny’s Big Debate series and the nightly Tonight Show with Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper.

The Tonight Show European Election Specials begin tonight with the Midlands North West constituency followed by Ireland South tomorrow and Dublin on Thursday.

Pat Kenny’s Big Debate is on next Wednesday, 15 May.

The Yates and Cooper show is likely to be a more robust affair with Yates saying today that audiences prefer when there’s some “chaos” in the studio.

We find that when there’s a knock-down, drag out fight amongst the panelists it rates much batter. So we might be trying to engineer as much mayhem and bloodshed as possible, political bloodshed.

The Tonight Show debates will feature five panelists with the main parties staying on after the commercial break and some other candidates swapping in to give them an opportunity to make their case.

Kenny’s show will have a primary lineup of five candidates facing questions but other “interested parties” will be in the audience.

The lineup of both shows is being coordinated so there is no overlap of candidates.

“Our plan is to have five key speakers but also there’ll be interested parties in the audience, there’ll be dissonant voices as well as voices that will agree with the candidates. So you’re as likely to meet anyone from Jason Byrne to Peter Casey in the line up,” Kenny says.

RTÉ has said it is ensuring it adheres to the broadcasting authority’s election rules by listing all candidates in a particular constituency whenever one is mentioned.

Virgin Media One is not adhering to this practice and Kenny says the station views balance as being achieved across an entire campaign rather than an individual show.

RTÉ’s debate schedule sees it hosting three major television debates on the European elections running for three consecutive nights from Sunday 19 May.

The RTÉ debates will be presented by Miriam O’Callaghan, Claire Byrne and David McCullagh.

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Rónán Duffy

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