RTÉ reverse decision not to include Sinn Féin in Leaders' Debate

RTÉ reverse decision not to include Sinn Féin in Leaders' Debate

MARY LOU McDonald will go head-to-head with Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin tonight for one of the final leaders' debates before the General Election this Saturday.

The leaders of Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil will get the chance to both defend their policies while attacking others in the Prime Time Leaders Debate-- one of the most highly anticipated debates of the campaign due in part to the controversy which had initially surrounded it.

RTÉ had at first refused to extend an invitation to Mary Lou McDonald to take part in the debate, despite the party being the third-biggest in the country.

This decision had led to accusations of bias and undemocratic policies from the public, and resulted in Sinn Féin issuing a legal letter to the state broadcaster.

Our own Irish Post poll, posted to our Twitter account, asked followers if they thought Sinn Féin should be included in the debate and resulted in an overwhelming 'Yes' vote: 90% of the 70 votes believed the party should receive an invitation.

Now, after official opinion polls have consistently shown a drop in support for Fine Gael and a surge in popularity for Sinn Féin-- with the latest poll showing Sinn Féin ahead of both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil-- RTÉ have confirmed that they will invite Ms McDonald to take part in tonight's debate.

The broadcaster released a statement yesterday which referenced the BAI's rules in governing general election coverage and acknowledged the surge in support for Sinn Féin, saying:

"RTÉ is very mindful it has a duty to the public to reflect events as they unfold. During the course of the campaign and over recent days RTÉ has taken into consideration the notable change in the dynamic of the campaign on the ground, and representation and statements by political parties. The dynamic has also been consistently reflected in all opinion polls since the campaign commenced.

"We now consider it necessary to amend our original approach, respond to the changes in the campaign, and continue to put the audience first in the making of Tuesday night’s programme."

Ms McDonald has confirmed she will attend the event.

The Prime Time Leaders Debate will take place tonight on RTÉ One at 21.35.