RTÉ referendum debate sees all sides trade abuse

Great heat, little light on Claire Byrne Live

Billed as one of RTE’s major referendum debates, it quickly descended to the nasty and brutish, with all sides trading abuse, much of it personal.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath, called Peter Boylan, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, a liar in his observations on the Savita Halappanavar case.

He also congratulated Claire Byrne for being able to get a pro-life doctor to appear on the programme when Senator Catherine Noone's Dáil committee could not do so.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith called Maria Steen of the Iona Institute a liar and refused to apologise. She had had a crisis pregnancy which led to an abortion.


Ms Steen said she took "very seriously any accusation of lying" and described the abortion Ms Smith had as the sort of "social abortion" she was warning would happen in Ireland if the Eighth Amendment was repealed.

Senator Rónan Mullen told us “I’m a politician. You can’t trust politicians.”

Obstetrician John Monaghan suggested Dr Boylan go back to school and learn about the foetus. Dr Boylan had said the foetus was not fully developed at 12 weeks. Dr Monaghan said "there is nothing new after 12 weeks and if you don't know that maybe you need to go back to school."

Dr Boylan said Dr Monaghan had described as “noble” efforts to keep the dead ‘Ms P’ alive.


Dr Monaghan said he had been referring ‘Ms P’’s carers and accused the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of not taking his and other obstreticians’ views on the forthcoming referendum into account.

The institute’s executive met on January 8th last and decided to support repeal, he said and this was “presented by email” to members.

“The Cabinet met on Wednesday. What is the connection between the institute and the Cabinet?” Dr Monaghan asked.

Dr Boylan replied: “We have no seat at Cabinet.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, in the most accurate if still polite observation of the night, suggested it was debate by “clappogram”. In the middle of it all, holding her head while so many about her seemed to be losing theirs, was Byrne, appealing to participants to “refrain from calling people liars”.

GP Mark Murphy said 1,300 doctors were calling for 'yes' and asked what right he had to impose his morality on women? An unnamed female GP reminded him there were two patients involved.

A Dr Crowley from Cork said he would never refer women for abortion,with further GPs for Yes and for No. Some had worked in the UK and had been persuaded towards a Yes/No vote by/despite experiences there.

There were lawyers for Yes and lawyers for No; doctors for Yes, doctors for No. Politicians for Yes, politicians for No. Great heat, little light, serving only to confirm viewers in their prejudices.

The only real clarity was in RTÉ political correspondent Katie Hannon’s explanation of the ballot paper the electorate will be presented with on May 25th.

All else was just a baiting game.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times