#IETownHall event: Kelleher accused of 'selling-out'; Wallace dismisses claims Euro bid is insurance against Dail seat loss

Ireland South MEP candidates will battle it out for crucial European election votes tonight at an Irish Examiner town hall debate with just a week to go before the national ballot.

#IETownHall event: Kelleher accused of 'selling-out'; Wallace dismisses claims Euro bid is insurance against Dail seat loss

Update 8:45pm:

Independents4Change TD Mick Wallace has dismissed rumours he is only running for Europe as he fears losing his Dáil seat, saying he just hopes to "be alive" by the time the long-awaited general election arrives.

Mr Wallace joked "what do you think" when asked about his motives for running in the Ireland South MEP constituency race.

Responding to Irish Examiner special correspondent Michael Clifford at this newspaper's town hall debate at the Silversprings Hotel in Cork City, Mr Wallace said "I just hope to be alive" when the general election comes.

He admitted it is "more difficult" to win a seat in Ireland South than in Dublin, where he was rumoured to be in favour of running, but said fellow Independents4Change TD Clare Daly's decision to run in Dublin resulted in him running in Ireland South.

Meanwhile Fianna Fáil TD and Ireland South European election candidate Billy Kelleher has been accused of "selling out" pro-life campaigners by backing the introduction of abortion in Ireland.

Mr Kelleher was targeted by Independent candidate Dolores Heaney during a heated exchange at the Irish Examiner's town hall debate this evening.

Speaking at the Silversprings Hotel stage, Ms Heaney lashed out at Mr Kelleher, saying she wanted to borrow a phrase from US political history and turning to Mr Kelleher, saying: "You are no Brian Crowley."

Ms Heaney said Mr Crowley, who has retired as Fianna Fáil's long-standing Ireland South MEP, defended pro-life campaigners but that Mr Kelleher has taking part in "selling out" the group.

Mr Kelleher remained statue-esque during the attack, and did not respond.

However, fellow Fianna Fáil candidates, councillor Malcolm Byrne, hit back, saying he does not understand why Ms Heaney said "blessed are the meek" as she is not showing compassion to women, saying "I don't know where you learned your Christianity" and that "I don't like giving oxygen to these people".

After uproar for a number of minutes and demands for an apology, Mr Byrne said he was not trying to ridicule Ms Heaney's religious views.

One crowd member shouted to the stage: "Ah behave, you're all acting like children up there."

Update 7:45pm: #IETownHall event: Ireland South MEP candidates continue debate following protest

The Irish Examiner Ireland South Constituency hustings event was disrupted before it even started with one of the candidates staging a walk-out.

As the event was about to begin at 7.30pm, Independent candidate Diarmuid O'Flynn came onto the stage to object to the format of the debate.

Due to the number of candidates in the race, the Irish Examiner had decided to break up the hustings, with elected representatives - local councillors, TDs and MEPs - invited onto a panel onstage.

All non-elected candidates were due to form another panel in the front row of the venue.

However, Mr O'Flynn took to the stage claiming that a level playing field had not been provided and instead the debate would be split into "senior hurling" and "junior hurling" panels.

A number of the other Independent candidates joined Mr O'Flynn the stage in support.

At one stage Independents 4 Change candidate Mick Wallace vacated his seat to give it to those who had not been given a spot on the stage.

After several minutes disruption Mr O'Flynn left the venue and all remaining candidates were invited to merge into one on-stage panel.

The debate continues in the Silver Springs Hotel in Cork.

#IETownHall event: Ireland South MEP candidates to come face to face in Cork

Original story, 6pm

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith

Ireland South MEP candidates will battle it out for crucial European election votes tonight at an Irish Examiner town hall debate with just a week to go before the national ballot.

Internal party turf wars, farming and fishing industry funding, broadband concerns and the future of the EU are set to dominate the debate in what is likely to prove a make or break moment in the election campaign.

Between 7.30pm and 9.15pm, 17 of the 23 Ireland South MEP candidates will come face to face at the Silversprings Hotel in Cork City in a bid to win over support for their campaigns.

You can keep abreast of events here via regular updates from our political team and the live twitter widget below. Join the conversation at #IETownHall

The event is the largest single debate in the Ireland South European elections campaign.

Hosted by political editor Daniel McConnell and special correspondent Michael Clifford, the debate will involve both on stage exchanges and interaction from the expected 200-person audience in attendance.

The meeting will be based on two panels, consisting of:

* Panel 1 – Deirdre Clune MEP (Fine Gael), Liadh Ni Riada MEP (Sinn Féin), Billy Kelleher TD (Fianna Fáil), Malcolm Byrne (Fianna Fáil), Mick Wallace TD (Independents4Change), Adrienne Wallace (Solidarity-People Before Profit), Breda Gardner (Independent), Grace O'Sullivan (Greens) and Sheila Nunan (Labour)

* Panel 2 – Diarmuid O'Flynn (Independent), Dolores Cahill (Independent), Peter O'Loughlin (Identity Ireland), Liam Minehan (Independent), Walter Ryan-Purcell (Independent), Theresa Heaney (Independent), Peter Madden (Independent) and Colleen Worthington (Independent)

Among the issues likely to be raised will be this week's revelations that two Fine Gael candidates - Sean Kelly MEP and Andrew Doyle TD - have been banned by the party from attending the debate to help increase Cork-based Ms Clune's vote haul.

Similar questions are also likely to be asked of Fianna Fáil's Mr Kelleher and Mr Byrne, who are embroiled in an ongoing turf war over Mr Byrne's private "one seat Kelleher" accusations.

Today's announcement that the EU and Government will give farmers a €100m Brexit protection fund in response to heated claims the Government is failing to do enough to help the sector will also be raised.

In addition, fishing sector concerns over the impact of trawlers from other EU member states on Irish stock will be discussed, in addition to the ongoing national debate over the cost and timeline for the national broadband plan.

- Additional reporting by Daniel McConnell and Elaine Loughlin

* Check out Friday's Irish Examiner for more coverage

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