Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald has been invited by RTE to take part in Tuesday night’s Prime Time leaders’ debate.
The original lineup for the debate was to be between Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar.
However, following Sinn Fein’s surge in the recent opinion polls, RTE General Election steering committee met on Monday to consider the party’s representations to include Ms McDonald in the debate.
Sinn Fein director of elections Pearse Doherty welcomed the decision by RTE and confirmed that Ms McDonald will accept the invitation.
He said: “I want to welcome the decision by RTE to extend an invite to Mary Lou McDonald to take part in tomorrow’s party leaders’ debate on Prime Time, and I am happy to confirm that Mary Lou will be participating.
“That being said, this should not have come down to a last-minute decision on the part of RTE.”
Sinn Fein had made repeated requests for their party leader to be included in the final televised debate airing days before the electorate go to the polls.
The party previously wrote to the broadcaster after consulting with its legal team.
RTE previously said the lineup was based on previous vote shares and decided to exclude the Sinn Fein leader based on its data.
However, the state broadcaster came under pressure in recent days after the Red C poll placed Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail in joint first place.
Both Mr Varadkar and Mr Martin said they would have no issue with Ms McDonald’s participation.
The Fine Gael leader acknowledged at the weekend that the election is now a “three-horse race”.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael criticised Sinn Fein’s tax pledges as “fantasy policies”, claiming they will hurt ordinary workers.
Paschal Donohoe said Fine Gael will seek to emphasise with voters that not all change is good, as recent polls showed a drop in support for the party.
The Irish General Election campaign has entered its final week, with all parties and independent candidates preparing to make their final pitches to voters.
Speaking in Dublin on Monday, Mr Donohoe said: “Not all change can be risk-free and not all change can be positive.
“What we are going to be doing as we head into the final week of the campaign is emphasising that in our manifesto and in the plans that we have published we have recognised the progress that has been made in our country – due to the sacrifices of the Irish people – and making the claim to the Irish people that change is happening and we are ambitious for more change to happen.”
He added: “In relation to Fianna Fail and the changes they say they will make – where are their plans? Where is their detail?
“We will be building on what we have already done, acknowledging what needs to be done and be unapologetic in challenging other parties that are putting forward mantras of change but in offering these mantras of change.
“Fianna Fail are putting forward their worst hits of their recent past and what Sinn Fein are offering is the kind of ideas that will do such harm to workers income, to wages and to their jobs.
“They have claimed they are going to put forward new ideas for investment involving 15 different tax hikes – tax hikes that would be bad for those at work, tax hikes that would be bad for those looking to create jobs.”
Fianna Fail finance spokesman Michael McGrath claimed Sinn Fein’s tax policies will leave Ireland a “cold place” for businesses.
Among its pledges, Sinn Fein said it plans to abolish the Universal Social Charge on the first 30,000 euro earned and to abolish the property tax.
Outlining Fianna Fail’s strategy for the final campaigning days, Mr McGrath used the opportunity to hit out at Sinn Fein, who tied first place with the party in a recent opinion poll.
“These policies are fantasy policies that will not add up in the real world,” he said.
“In the real world, people change their behaviour, they make investment decisions depending on the change in taxation and enterprise landscape in the country.
“Sinn Fein want to make this a very cold place for business. They want to tax employment through increasing PRSI (Pay Related Social Insurance), they want to tax people over 100,000 euro under the pretence that won’t affect anybody below 100,000 euro.”
Speaking at their election headquarters in Dublin, Mr McGrath also claimed Sinn Fein’s tax policies will “boomerang back into the face of the very people that they are saying they’re going to help”.
Do not underestimate the strength of will within the Fianna Fail party who have all rejected the prospect of a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalitionMicheal Martin, Fianna Fail
On Monday Mr Martin was pressed on his party’s position on going into Government with Sinn Fein after a number of his TDs and candidates indicated they would be open to working with Mary Lou McDonald’s party.
“It’s not just about the past but about the future as well,” Mr Martin told RTE.
“Do not underestimate the strength of will within the Fianna Fail party who have all rejected the prospect of a Fianna Fail-Sinn Fein coalition.”
Asked about Mr Varadkar’s comments that Fianna Fail has “a lot of backwoodsmen”, Mr Martin said it was beneath the office of An Taoiseach.
Mr Varadkar kicked off his final week of campaigning saying he will work until the final moments to convince people to vote for Fine Gael.
He raised concerns over other parties’ pledges to reduce the pension age back to 65.
“I appreciate what we’re offering is less than what the other parties are offering on this but I’m concerned that what’s happening is an auction and an auction that could result in us auctioning off the pensions of the young,” he said.
Acknowledging Fine Gael is behind in the opinion polls, he claimed they are only a “snapshot in time”.
Mr Varadkar welcomed RTE’s decision saying it will provide an opportunity to scrutinise and “expose” Sinn Fein’s policies.
Speaking in Co Tipperary on Monday, he said: “If you look at their manifesto – no carbon tax, no property tax, reducing the USC for people and no college fees. They say this will all be paid for massive taxes on business.
“That might work for a year or two but if you impose that much tax to businesses and jobs and pension pots and wealth, what happens after a few years is that businesses close, investment goes to other countries, wealth leaves and we lose the battle for talent and you end up with the poorest people who always suffer when that happens.”
The Republic's election pantomime is going into its final week, with a plethora of parties and lots of bickering and slagging, fed by social media and TV debates with people shouting at each other. Northerners could be forgiven for looking on in unexpected bewilderment. Maybe Senator George Mitchell should come over and sort it all out!