State-run broadcaster RTÉ has been forced to include Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald in a final televised leaders’ election debate as its historic surge in polls continues.
Sinn Féin has confirmed that Mary Lou McDonald will accept the invitation.
Sinn Féin is now the joint most popular party state at 24% support, alongside Fianna Fail but ahead of Fine Gael, who are now on 21%, according to the latest Red C poll. Other polls have shown a similarly large increase in Sinn Féin’s vote share.
RTÉ this afternoon announced its decision to reverse its position and invite Ms McDonald to participate in Tuesday evening’s debate.
The debate was scheduled to be between only Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his confidence-and-supply partner Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, with Sinn Féin’s requests for Ms McDonald’s inclusion repeatedly rebuffed.
The public pressure to include Ms McDonald had become a major embarrassment for RTÉ, whose position was made increasingly untenable by the polls.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin hinted last night that he would prefer to see Sinn Féin included, and RTE’s last-minute reversal today has been predicted.
Speaking on the campaign trail in Dublin Mid-West on Monday, Ms McDonald said RTÉ was wrong in its initial decision to exclude her from the televised debate.
“They are the national broadcaster, they have a duty to present an informed, balanced debate,” she said in Clondalkin on Monday afternoon.
“The idea of having the two men who were in government together for the last five years debating each other on their shared record is farcical,” she said.
Sinn Féin Director of Elections Pearse Doherty welcomed the u-turn by RTÉ.
“This should not have come down to a last minute decision on the part of RTÉ,” he said.
“Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil wanted this election to be about them, but this election was never about two parties with no real policy differences, who have effectively been in government together for the last four years. Neither of them represent change.
“This election is about the Irish people and our future. Sinn Féin are the real voice of change in this election and are the only party that is committed to giving workers and families a break.”
The wave of public support for change has caught all sides by surprise, and the polls show it is falling overwhelmingly to Sinn Féin. They have have caused panic in the ranks of Fianna Fail and especially for Fine Gael, whose support continues to plummet.
“After 100 years of alternating two-party rule, Sinn Féin are threatening to smash the status quo,” wrote Irish Voice editor Niall O’Dowd.
The transformation is being attributed to public exhaustion at the continuing crises in the health and housing sectors, as well as the scandal over revisionist commemorations for the Black and Tans and other forces of British oppression in Ireland.
Support for Sinn Féin has vaulted most in the age groups up to 54, a huge transition in those middle-aged demographic categories who are among the most likely to vote. Some party supporters have expressed fears that it may not be running enough candidates to take advantage of what could be an epochal election.