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#GE20: Questions as to whether Varadkar and Martin will do head-to-head debate

#GE20: Questions as to whether Varadkar and Martin will do head-to-head debate
File photo of Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin.

While parties have yet to agree to TV debate appearances, efforts behind the scenes have begun to line up programmes which could have a big impact in what is expected to be a tight campaign between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Both RTÉ and Virgin Media are lining up key debates during the campaign.

However, there are questions about whether Mr Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, will do head-to-head debates as well as programmes featuring a large panel of leaders.

Sources in Virgin Media said hosts Pat Kenny, Ivan Yates and Matt Cooper are being considered to lead their debates.

While a large debate involving several party leaders from different parties and groups looks likely to go ahead, station sources confirmed there are difficulties arranging a programme involving just Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin.

TV debates in previous elections have played a significant role in influencing voters.

An infamous 2007 debate between then Fianna Fáil leader, Bertie Ahern, and Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, saw the latter criticised for being weak on the economy.

While it is understood that RTÉ is keen for a head-to-head debate between the two major party leaders, no decisions have been made on this and a steering group is examining options.

A spokeswoman for RTÉ confirmed that hosts Miriam O'Callaghan and Clare Byrne, who presided over previous station debates, are being considered for the events.

Sources at RTÉ also noted that the station faced legal action from the Green Party in 2016 to be included in a debate and that therefore there is a lot to consider about coverage.

If such a debate is confirmed, on either TV station, this would be a first since the 2007 debate involving Mr Ahern and Mr Kenny as other election clashes in 2016 and 2011 featured panels of party leaders.

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