Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has declared it a “farce” that she is being excluded from the RTÉ leaders head-to-head debate in the wake of a Sunday Times poll which puts her party within the margin of error of being the second largest in the country.
Speaking ahead of a canvass in the Liberties area of the Dublin South Central constituency, where party TD Aengus O Snodaigh is bidding to extend his 17-year-term in Dail Éireann, Ms McDonald said “what kind of debate is it to say to people that you can have Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil which really is no choice at all?”
She said she had asked Pearse Doherty, the party’s director of elections, to write to RTÉ today setting out the party’s opposition to the decision.
“We’re taking legal advice on the matter also,” she added.
RTÉ is set to hold two live debates over the course of the campaign - the first, on Monday, January 27 on Claire Byrne Live will see seven representatives from the main parties taking part, with the debate between Leo Varadkar and Micheál Martin slated for Tuesday, February 4.
“This isn’t a case of (RTÉ) bending,” Ms McDonald said. “This is the national broadcaster, they carry out a democratic function, they’ve got a public duty to fulfill so it’s just wrong that they would exclude anybody.”
“This isn’t about me, it isn’t even really about Sinn Féin. It’s about the people that we represent, this is about the ideas and the values that we represent, and they deserve a hearing.”
Last night’s Sunday Times/Behaviour and Attitudes poll showed Fianna Fail on 32% of the vote, with Fine Gael falling back seven points to 20%, just one point ahead of Sinn Féin.
While Fine Gael, and most others, have warned against the dangers of overestimating the importance of a single poll so early in the campaign, there were the first signs of possible jitters on RTÉ 's The Week In Politics, with justice minister Charlie Flanagan agreeing that the party’s plan to raise the State pension age to 68 by 2028 “needs to be looked at” as it’s “coming up on the doorsteps”.
Bringing the pension age back down to 65 has been one of the mainstays of the Sinn Féin message. Ms McDonald said that Mr Flanagan’s statement represents “good news”.
“Our position is crystal clear, at the age of 65 every worker should be entitled to their State pension. This business of sending 65 and 66-year-olds to sign on the dole is disgraceful.”
“It is a matter of basic decency and respect for people who have worked all their lives and paid their taxes,” she said.