Friday 21 October 2016

RTÉ is doing public a disservice by restricting leaders' debate

Published 11/02/2016 | 02:30

Green party leader Eamon Ryan campaigning in Dublin. Photo: Tom Burke
Green party leader Eamon Ryan campaigning in Dublin. Photo: Tom Burke

Democracy works best when there is a proper 'collision of ideas' but in this election that battle of ideas is being needlessly restricted by RTÉ. It decided that only parties with three TDs in the outgoing Dáil could take part in the first leaders debate. We think this is unfair.

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Some of the parties favoured were not even in existence in the last election and other broadcasting services have already shown how a more inclusive debate can work.

We think the people have the right to hear from the range of choices they have before them. Green candidates are running in every constituency in this election. We have a particular perspective on how we could build a new, sustainable economy and on how we can meet major social and environmental challenges.

We have just seen the ninth Atlantic storm of this winter. The rest of the world agreed to go green at the UN climate conference in Paris last December but there is no discussion in this election as to what that means for Ireland.

We have argued with RTÉ that it should use the same criteria it applies to general election coverage to decide who takes part in the leaders' debate. That would take into account the number of votes each party got in the last election, their number of candidates, recent polls and local and European election results, as well as the number of TDs they have.

Taking such an approach would see the Greens included, perhaps also with representation from the many independent candidates that are running.

RTÉ refused to budge and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has decided that it can only consider the issue once the election is over.

That turns its review of election coverage into a purely academic exercise - which is why we have to go to the courts.

It is not a small point that is at stake. The nature of democratic debate in our Republic is important.

We are standing up for the principle that democracy is all the stronger when different voices are allowed to be heard.

Canvassing door to door, you sense that more people than ever have yet to make up their minds.

The leaders' debates are the occasion when those internal calculations start to be made. RTÉ has decided who should be in the frame and we think that does the public a great disservice.

The Taoiseach has agreed that it would be good to have the Greens taking part, and as the then TD Michael D Higgins said in a 2009 Dáil debate on broadcasting, we need a service that reflects "a community in conversation with itself".

We want that conversation to be as open and respectful as possible.

And we believe it should have a Green voice as part of the mix.

Irish Independent

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