RTÉ received 1,277 complaints about abortion debate

More than 90% of those contacting broadcaster felt Yes campaign treated unfairly

RTÉ received 1,277 complaints in relation to the controversial Claire Byrne Live Referndum Special programme broadcast on May 14th last.

Approximately 92 per cent of the complaints received were related to claims of unfairness towards the Yes side of the campaign. RTÉ has responded to each complainant.

The No side was represented on the programme by Maria Steen of the Iona Intsitute, obstetrician John Monaghan and Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler. On the Yes side was Orla O'Connor, co-director of Together For Yes, obstetrician Peter Boylan and Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald.

From the audience Independent TD Mattie McGrath called Dr Boylan, chair of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, a liar following his observations on the Savita Halappanavar case.

People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith called Ms Steen a liar and refused to apologise. She had had a crisis pregnancy which led to an abortion.

Ms Steen 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Ms Smith had as the sort of "social abortion" she was warning would happen in Ireland if the Eighth Amendment was repealed.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 said “I’m a politician. You can’t trust politicians” from the crowd.

Back to school

Dr Monaghan suggested that Dr Boylan should go back to school and learn about pregnancy after Dr Boylan said the foetus was not fully developed at 12 weeks. Dr Boylan said Dr Monaghan had described as “noble” efforts to keep the dead ‘Ms P’ alive so she could give birth. Dr Monaghan said he had been referring to the woman’s carers.

On a number of occasions during the programme presenter Clarie Byrne appealed to participants to refrain from calling each other liars and to respect each other's point of view.

In a statement RTÉ said the programme “gave both the Yes and No campaigns an equal opportunity to air their arguments”.

It said “impartial analysis of the programme will demonstrate that, when the number of speakers on each side of the referendum question and the airtime afforded to them are both taken into account, the programme gave an equitable and fair opportunity to both sides to express their views.”

RTÉ said that some 650,000 viewers watched at some point during the programme, the average audience for which increased by up to 53 per cent as it continued.

On average 359,000 viewers watched the full hour and a half programme live on RTÉ One, with additional viewers watching on RTÉ One + 1, RTÉ News Now and the RTÉ Player.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times