Station to leave seat available for FG leader


TV3 TELEVISED DEBATE:TV3 HAS said it will leave a seat for Enda Kenny in tomorrow nights debate between party leaders until the last moment, in case the Fine Gael leader changes his mind about not participating.

Mr Kenny yesterday ruled out taking part in the TV3 debate with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore because his schedule did not allow for it. He said he would be willing to participate in a three-way leaders’ debate on television before the end of the campaign, as well as a five-way leaders’ debate.

The Fine Gael leader had previously said he would not turn up for the TV3 debate because it was being chaired by journalist Vincent Browne. However, Mr Browne has since offered to step aside.

Yesterday, Mr Kenny said his inability to attend was down to scheduling. He said that he would be speaking at a public rally in Sligo-Leitrim tomorrow night.

He accused TV3 of trying to dictate the timing of the debate. “I think TV3 jumped the gun by saying ‘We want a three-way debate on Tuesday night before anybody else and so, Mister Politician, comply’. That does not fit into my schedule.”

He repeated his refusal to get involved in a debate hosted by Mr Browne: “I have an issue about comments he made in relation to suicide and I feel very strongly about this. I have been in too many homes where words are inadequate to express what has happened.”

Mr Kenny said he had no difficulty with Vincent Browne whom he described as a “barrister, journalist and television presenter” but said he had a serious issue with comments a trained barrister and journalist made in regard to suicide.

“I look forward to the television debate, when I can present my case and our plan for getting Ireland working. That is what people are interested in and not the intricacies of personalities or debates. They want to know how the parties propose to deal with this nation’s problems,” he said.

On Saturday, Mr Kenny suggested that his seat in the TV3 debate should remain empty on-air as a symbol for all the people who were forced to emigrate from Ireland “by virtue of the incompetence and reckless management” of the economy by Fianna Fáil.

TV3 said its two-hour debate would be chaired by Mr Browne, but if Mr Kenny changed his mind, the station’s political editor Ursula Halligan would replace him.

RTÉ plans to go ahead with a five-way debate on Monday, February 14th. Mr Kenny has agreed to take part in this debate along with the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Labour, Sinn Féin and the Greens.

Agreement has still to be reached on a three-way debate of party leaders on February 22nd, the Tuesday before polling day, on RTÉ. Fine Gael wants the programme broadcast on both RTÉ and TV3. The latter station says it won’t simulcast an RTÉ programme.

TG4 is also planning a three-way debate in Irish on Wednesday, February 16th.

Fianna Fáil front bench spokesman Senator Marc MacSharry said Fine Gael was running an arrogant campaign based on cynical policy soundbites.

“On the day when he claimed that he would personally ‘renew the Republic’ he has again raised questions about how he would behave if he were elected taoiseach.”

Labour TD Brendan Howlin accused Fine Gael of “ducking and dodging” on the issue of the leaders’ debates with the aim of limiting Mr Kenny’s exposure to public and media scrutiny.

He said Mr Kennys claim that he would not take part because the debate would be chaired by Vincent Browne was not convincing.