Irish Republican News · January 24, 2015
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Robinson, McGuinness shut out of TV debate


Both the DUP and Sinn Fein have been refused permission to take part in a televised debate of British party leaders ahead of the Westminster general election.

The DUP leader Peter Robinson has threatened legal action if he is not included in the line-up, describing BBC and ITV’s decision not to invite his party to take part in the live debates as “unacceptable”. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly has also insisted on “equal respect” for his party.

The DUP has protested because the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), Plaid Cymru [Welsh nationalists] and the Greens - all of who have fewer MPs than the DUP - have been invited by the broadcasters to speak alongside the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats and UKIP for an election debate.

In his letter to broadcasting regulators, Mr Robinson described the failure to invite the DUP as “inexplicable”.

He said a debate involving only those who could credibly become prime minister or a party with substantial support and MPs could be defended, as could a debate including all the larger “regional” political parties.

“What is not acceptable is a situation where the largest party in Northern Ireland is to be excluded while regional parties from Scotland and Wales, with fewer seats in parliament than the DUP, are to be included,” the DUP leader wrote.

Pointing out that the DUP is the fourth largest party in the House of Commons, he said the party would take action.

“Please rest assured that the DUP will not accept being excluded while parties like Plaid Cymru and the SNP are included,” he warned. “We will avail ourselves of all suitable remedies to ensure that Northern Ireland is not treated differently to the other regions and the Democratic Unionist Party is not treated differently to parties with less support at Westminster.”

Gerry Kelly, who is set to contest the north Belfast Westminster constituency on behalf of Sinn Fein, said his party also had a right to take part.

“Sinn Fein will take every opportunity to present and promote our policies and positions in the public arena,” he said.

“We would welcome the opportunity at the party leaders debates to present the Sinn Fein position on Irish unity and equality for all.

“This is all about the mandate from the voters. Sinn Fein have more representation than some of the other parties who have been invited to take part in these debates.

“Our MPs have a proud track record of hard work on the ground. Sinn Fein therefore will be asking for equal representation in the party leaders TV debates and equal respect for our mandate and for the people who elect us.

“We will challenge any attempt to discriminate against us.”

But in a joint statement, the four major broadcasters confirmed plans for a 7-7-2 format, under which two debates hosted by BBC and ITV would feature the leaders of Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Greens, Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, and a third on Channel 4 and Sky would pit David Cameron against Ed Miliband in a head-to-head clash of the two men most likely to emerge as prime minister.

Roger Mosey, a former editorial director of BBC TV News, said the political debate in Ireland should be kept separate from British politics.

“Northern Ireland politics doesn’t translate to the whole of the UK,” he said. “So, I hope there will be measures to make sure that viewers in Northern Ireland will get proper debates featuring Northern Ireland politicians in Northern Ireland, but I think once you start putting Northern Irish politicians into the UK debate it becomes completely unworkable.”

Proposed dates for the debates are April 2, 16 and 30 - with the final clash coming exactly a week ahead of the May 7 poll.

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