Maria Steen will take part in TV3 debate having previously pulled out

Move comes as Love Both representative Cora Sherlock pulls out of RTÉ debate

Anti-abortion campaigner Maria Steen has said she will take part in Wednesday night's TV3 debate on the Eighth Amendment, having previously withdrawn from the programme.

Ms Steen, who represents the Iona Institute, is due to appear on the The Pat Kenny Show alongside Senator Ronan Mullen advocating a No vote.

The two are to debate Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty and Amnesty Ireland's Colm O'Gorman, who are calling for a Yes vote.

Ms Steen advised the programme on Tuesday she would not be attending but contacted them on Wednesday to say she will now take part in the show.


This follows a dispute over who would participate in the RTÉ Prime Time debate on Tuesday night.

Love Both spokeswoman Cora Sherlock had been due to participate but withdrew hours before it was to air.

There have been differing explanations from No campaigners over the circumstances leading to Ms Sherlock's withdrawal.

Senior No campaign sources say she was convinced to stand down late on Monday night in favour of Ms Steen, who was widely credited with making a significant impact on RTÉ's Claire Byrne Live debate just over a week ago.

However, in a video posted online, Ms Sherlock said she wanted 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."

A statement from the Love Both campaign said Ms Sherlock withdrew because the group wanted a medical professional from the anti-abortion campaign to debate Prof Mary Higgins, who was due to represent the Yes campaign.

RTÉ ultimately rejected the No campaign's proposal that Ms Steen appear on its behalf on the basis that she had appeared on the Claire Byrne Live programme a week earler.

Following Ms Sherlock’s withdrawal, the programme was reduced to a head-to-head debate between Minister for Health Simon Harris and Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín.

She had been due to join Mr Tóibín in calling for a No vote in Friday’s referendum, while Mr Harris was due to have been joined by Prof Higgins to argue for a Yes vote.

RTÉ's handling of the matter sparked angry accusations that it was trying to “bully” the No campaign over who should represent it.

“This is about RTÉ trying to tell one campaign that it cannot decide who speaks for them. RTÉ is taxpayer-funded. It is a public service broadcaster. They do not get to tell the No campaign who speaks on its behalf,” he said.

"They don't get to bully us. They tried in the [presidential] election with what they did to Sean Gallagher. "

RTÉ has defended its handling of the debate which, it said, was “fair and equitable”.

It said it had informed the No campaign from the outside that the panel would not include anyone who had already been a panelist on the Claire Byrne Live debate 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 said in a statement.

Viewing figures indicate that 738,000 viewers tuned in to the Prime Time debate on Tuesday night, while 348,000 viewers on average watched the full programme live.

Following The Pat Kenny Show, TV3's The Tonight Show will air the final televised debate of the abortion referendum campaign.

It will be the last chance to hear political reaction and views from both sides in a TV debate before the broadcast moratorium begins on Thursday and voting on Friday.

The panel will include Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, businessman and No campaigner, Declan Ganley and Theresa Lowe, barrister and communications consultant.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent