Sinn Féin has described the decision by the state-run broadcaster RTE to hold a one-to-one election debate between the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail as an “utter joke”.
The heads of the two largest parties in the 26 County state are set to debate on 4 February, leaving the third largest party to organise a protest campaign.
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald has been invited only to a second debate due to take place a week earlier and which will include the leaders of the small political parties. But the party’s Director of Elections Pearse Doherty said RTE had “illustrated its failure to live up to its responsibilities”.
“Sinn Féin has been the effective voice of opposition in the Dail for the past four years while Fianna Fail has propped up Fine Gael in government through their ‘confidence and supply’ deal,” he said.
“There is no difference between these two parties. They have the same ideology and the same outlook, and combined they received less than 50% of the votes of the Irish people at the last general election.
“They have tried to carve up government and opposition, and now they want to carve up this election by excluding Sinn Féin. This election is about much more than these two parties and the media have a responsibility to make sure that all voices are heard.”
Sinn Féin pointed to an election debate held in 2011 in which the Labour Party, which was then polling at 16% -- less than Sinn Féin is now -- was allowed take part in a three-way debate.
“By excluding Sinn Féin, RTE is facilitating the gameplan of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail,” said Mr Doherty. “RTE’s decision is an utter joke.”
Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail have said they would not go into coalition with Sinn Féin, blaming the party’s ‘secretive’ management structure.
But Sinn Féin has been keen to point to the hypocrisy of their rival’s support of powersharing in Belfast while refusing to allow the possibility in Dublin. It was telling that, before the ink was dry on the Stormont deal, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald sought the right to be included in any coalition government in Dublin.
While Labour leader Brendan Howlin flip-flopped on the issue, People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett has insisted it is possible to have an “alternative left government”.
Speaking at the Solidarity People Before Profit (PBP) election launch in Dublin, the Dun Laoghaire TD stressed that almost 50 per cent of the electorate voted for parties other than Fine Gael and Fianna Fail.
He said the political establishment of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael has “failed spectacularly” to deliver on housing and homelessness, health, climate change and on the growing cost of living”.
The “beginning of wisdom and change is to break the stranglehold of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail”, he said. “We are willing to discuss with others on the left who are principled and willing to embark on a radical strategy of transformation in Irish society.”
In its own announcement, the new republican party Aontu has confirmed that it will be contesting its first general election in the 26 Counties.
Party leader Peadar Toibin said: “It is clear that the election is being framed by some as an election between Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. Are Fianna Fail and Fine Gael really the best Ireland can do? Are we cursed to relive over & over the same government?”
The Meath West TD said Fine Gael’s Ireland is a divided Ireland: “We will stand 20 candidates in this election with a view to challenging the political cartel’s hold on power. We are determined to cause upsets for the establishment parties in constituencies throughout the state.”
ADAMS STEPS DOWN
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams has said he is “emotional” at stepping down as a TD for Louth. The veteran politician had previously indicated he would not be seeking re-election. He has represented Louth in the Dail since 2011.
Another key member of Sinn Féin’s ‘old guard’, Martin Ferris, is stepping down from his seat in Kerry. At a party meeting in Dundalk, Mr Adams told Sinn Féin activists he was proud to have represented the constituency.
“As my term as a TD for Louth comes to an end, I have to confess to being emotional about departing after serving the people of this constituency for nine years,” he said.
“I am deeply indebted to the citizens who elected me in 2011 and again in 2016 with Imelda Munster. I want to thank all of them and also my comrades in Sinn Féin.”
Mr Adams warned that although work had been done to ensure there will be no physical infrastructure on the border after Brexit, “there is much more work to been done to protect our economies north and south and to oppose the efforts by the British to dilute the rights agenda in the north.”
The 71-year-old wished his colleagues well in next month’s poll. “I welcome the calling of the election and the opportunity for Sinn Féin to persuade voters to elect an even stronger Sinn Féin team,” he said.