Kenny refuses to take part in TV3 debate


LEADERS' DEBATES:THE ROW over the televised debates between the party leaders has intensified, with Fine Gael vetoing any debate hosted by TV3’s Vincent Browne and the stalemate continuing over RTÉ’s proposals for a three-way debate.

Fianna Fáil politicians lined up yesterday to taunt Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny over his refusal to participate in Tuesday’s TV3 debates chaired by Browne.

Mr Kenny said his decision was based on remarks made by Browne last year about suicide.

On the back foot on the debates issue for over a week, Fine Gael yesterday attempted to seize the initiative by agreeing for the first time to a three-way debate between Mr Kenny, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.

The party wants the debate to be televised by both RTÉ and TV3, but will not accept Browne as chair.

TV3 said it was disappointed by Fine Gael’s decision not to participate in Tuesday’s debate, which will now go ahead without Mr Kenny.

A spokeswoman said Browne had made a full and immediate apology for his remarks about suicide, which the station believed had been accepted by Fine Gael at the time.

The station said the invitation to the Fine Gael leader remained open should he change his mind.

Both Mr Martin and Mr Gilmore have confirmed their participation.

Meanwhile, RTÉ plans to go ahead with a five-way debate on Monday, February 14th. Mr Kenny has agreed to take part in this debate along with the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Labour, Sinn Féin and the Greens.

Agreement has still to be reached on a three-way debate of party leaders on RTÉ.

Fine Gael has proposed a three-way debate with Fianna Fáil and Labour to take place on February 22nd, the Tuesday before polling day, provided the programme can be broadcast on both RTÉ and TV3.

It seems unlikely that RTÉ will agree to this condition.

RTÉ wrote to the party leaders yesterday with its proposals for the two debates. A spokeswoman would only say that negotiations were continuing.

Fine Gael’s director of elections Phil Hogan said RTÉ’s agreement to host a five-way debate was unprecedented and reflected his repeated calls for a discussion of the issues between the leaders of all the main parties.

Mr Martin said he was amazed by the behaviour of Enda Kenny. “After nine days of a constantly changing series of excuses, he has now withdrawn from next week’s first debate.”

“As a leader of government you have to be able to deal with tough negotiations in many forums.

“Talking to former paramilitaries about peace, with other countries about treaties or multinational executives about investments – you have to face much tougher situations than a debate moderated by Vincent Browne.”

Mr Martin added he was surprised “that anybody would cast doubt on Vincent Browne’s objectivity”. He said: “I love Vincent Browne.”

Browne declined to comment on the row yesterday, but said he believed the main Opposition parties were deluding themselves by claiming the EU–IMF deal could be renegotiated, while Fianna Fáil was in denial about its role in the crisis.

Labour education spokesman Ruairí Quinn accused Mr Kenny of running scared from the electorate.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why Enda is so frightened of participating,” he said.

Explaining his decision on the campaign trail yesterday, Mr Kenny said: “Vincent Browne on his telvision programme last year advised that I as leader of my party should take a bottle of whiskey and go into a dark room.

“I will say to Vincent Browne, directly, I have been in hundreds of homes across the country where the tragedy of suicide has inflicted pain and stress and deep tragedy on families.”

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Andrews said Mr Kenny’s refusal to participate in the debate showed “either the most incredible political arrogance or cowardice”.

Browne comment on Kenny: broadcast complaint not upheld

A COMPLAINT about a statement by Vincent Browne that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny should go into a dark room with a gun and bottle of whiskey has not been upheld.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI’s) compliance committee said Browne and TV3 had apologised appropriately for the remarks and therefore the issue was resolved.

The authority acted on foot of a complaint from Headline, the charity which deals with the treatment of mental health issues in the media.

The committee publishes its rulings on a quarterly basis and the timing was coincidental given that Mr Kenny’s refusal to deal with the TV3 presenter has now become an election issue.

The authority held that the complaint had been resolved as Browne had apologised on air and had also written to the Fine Gael leader apologising for the remarks which he made on the Tonight with Vincent Browneprogramme on September 30th.

Browne made the comments in relation to a poor opinion poll rating for the Fine Gael leader. In his on-air apology five days later, he said he had been “stupid, insensitive and also offensive to him [Enda Kenny]”.

The complaint to the BAI was made by Rachel Wright, Headlines media and campaign liaison assistant. She said Brownes comments were “extremely insensitive and likely to cause harm and distress to those whose lives have been affected by suicide”.

In its submission, TV3 held that Browne’s comments were stated in a “clearly flippant and glib manner” and he was in no way an advocate of suicide.

The remarks were “careless and imprudent” but had been dealt with by Browne in a sincere and frank way, TV3 maintained.

The committee acknowledged the remark was intended as a political metaphor and the actions of both parties had been sufficient to see that the complaint was resolved. Ronan McGreevy