RTÉ ‘Prime Time’ debate has no clear winner

Broadcast followed row between RTÉ and the No side over who should represent it in debate

Minister for Health Simon Harris, for the "Yes" side, and Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín, representing the "No" vote, clash during RTÉ's Prime Time debate on the abortion referendum. Video: RTÉ


Minister for Health Simon Harris accused No campaigners of seeking to force women who have been raped to carry their pregnancies to full term, while anti-abortion Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín said the Government proposals were “breathtakingly extreme”.

The RTÉ Prime Time debate on Tuesday night pitted the familiar arguments of the Yes and No sides – the “hard cases” versus “abortion on demand” but saw neither side emerge as a clear winner.

The event was a less raucous affair than last week’s RTÉ debate. Mr Harris gave an assured performance, stressing that women were travelling to the UK for abortions every day, and taking abortion pills every day.

Mr Harris criticised the No campaign for recent suggestions that a more restrictive regime was preferable when “everybody knows” they would not support it. He insisted that disability would not become a ground for abortion.

Mr Tóibín, who has broken with his party on the question of abortion, said the Government was seeking to “twist the arm of the Irish people to allow abortion on demand by focussing on those hard cases”.

The hours before the debate saw a fierce row between RTÉ and the No side who wanted to nominate Maria Steen of the Iona Institute as their second representative for the debate instead of Cora Sherlock, who had previously agreed to participate.

Ms Steen appeared in last week’s debate on the RTÉ, where she performed very strongly and was reckoned by many observers to have won the debate for the No side.

Although the No side argued that pro-Repeal obstetrician Peter Boylan had appeared on two television debates, RTÉ declined to accept Ms Steen.

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