Kenny unlikely to accept RTÉ invite for Seanad debate

Fianna Fáil leader hopes Kenny will realise ‘importance of a proper public discussion’

Enda Kenny during leaders questions in the Dáil on Wednesday. He said he didn’t want to embarrass Micheál Martin by debating the Seanad referendum with him on RTÉ. Photograph: Oireachtas TV screen grab

Enda Kenny during leaders questions in the Dáil on Wednesday. He said he didn’t want to embarrass Micheál Martin by debating the Seanad referendum with him on RTÉ. Photograph: Oireachtas TV screen grab

Sat, Sep 21, 2013, 07:16

Taoiseach Enda Kenny is not expected to participate in an RTÉ debate on the referendum on the abolition of the Seanad with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

RTÉ today announced it had invited the two, who it described as the “leading political figures on either side of the campaign”, to take part in a debate on its Prime Time programme on October 1st, three days before voters cast their ballots.

Mr Martin, who is campaigning for a No vote, said he had confirmed his willingness to participate and that he remained hopeful “the Taoiseach may yet realise the importance of a proper public discussion of his proposals”.

Asked about debate during a visit to Co Louth today, Mr Kenny said it appeared Mr Martin wanted to “generate publicity for himself by having a debate with the Taoiseach.

“It is not a question of leaders deciding on this,” he said. “This is a peoples decision and the leader of Fianna Fail is in no position to declare himself the leader of the Opposition against the scrapping of the Seanad.”

RTÉ said it had received notification of Mr Martin’s acceptance of the invitation and that it awaited a response from Mr Kenny.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach said the invitation had been received but a response had not yet been issued.

A Fine Gael source said there was “no precedent” for a taoiseach to take part in a debate on a referendum and pointed out that Mr Kenny had participated in three debates ahead of the last general election.

“Micheál Martin has been reduced to making this an issue as it is all he has got following his party’s post election u-turn,” the source said. In its 2011 general election manifesto, Fianna Fáil said the Seanad should be abolished in tandem with a wider political reform programme.

Earlier this week, Mr Kenny told Mr Martin in the Dáil that he was unwilling to debate the matter with the Fianna Fáil leader as he did not want to “embarrass” him.

Mr Martin said: “The only reason for refusal that the Taoiseach has given to date is his fear of causing me embarrassment. While that may well be the outcome of the debate, it is no reason to avoid having one in the first place.”

The Democracy Matters group - which involves former tanaiste Michael McDowell, Independent Senator Feargal Quinn and Independent TD Finian McGrath - yesterday unveiled posters urging the electorate to vote No to a Government “power grab”.

Mr McDowell said he had been canvassing in the Dublin South East constituency on Thursday night and that the response he had received was heavily in favour of retaining the Seanad. “They believe the Government is seeking to have too much power,” he said.

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