Friday 22 February 2019

RTE's referendum debate 'ruined by reprehensible jeering'

Senator Catherine Noone
Senator Catherine Noone

RTE's live televised abortion debate on Monday night was branded "demeaning" and "reprehensible" by the chair of the Oireachtas Committee on the Eighth Amendment.

Senator Catherine Noone said she would not like to take part in a similar debate again because of the level of jeering and inappropriate behaviour during the show.

Health Minister Simon Harris agreed, comparing the debate to a football match.

Ms Noone criticised RTE's staging of the show, saying host Claire Byrne "did her best in the circumstances" but it should have been organised better.

The senator appeared on a heated debate on RTE's Claire Byrne Live where groups from both sides of the campaign on repealing the Eighth Amendment persistently shouted each other down. Booing and heckling were prominent throughout, while audience members also clapped and cheered.

Ms Noone was seated in the audience and made a contribution to the show from her seat.

Yesterday, she said it was an unpleasant experience.

"I thought at the mention of Savita Halappanavar's name that jeering, despite the context, was beyond reprehensible," she said.


"I felt it was a demeaning environment to be in and the level of aggression, particularly on the No side, was something that was hard to relate to.

"I think Claire did her best in the circumstances. I think the programme could have been organised much better and I would hope other programmes would learn from it."

Mr Harris said people on both sides of the debate needed to be more respectful before the referendum.

"You cannot have this whooping, jeering and hollering when you are talking about such a sensitive matter that has impacted so many women and their partners in this country," he said.

A spokeswoman for RTE said Yes and No campaigns were given fair opportunities to air arguments and both sides did so "passionately and trenchantly".

"The panel was composed of three speakers on each side of the argument and the audience was evenly divided," she said.

"Impartial analysis of the Claire Byrne Live Referendum Special will show that when the number of speakers on each side of the referendum question and the airtime afforded to them are both taken into account, the programme gave an equitable and fair opportunity to both sides."

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