Thursday 22 February 2018

Green Party lose legal challenge for Eamon Ryan to appear on leaders debate

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

A legal challenge over RTE's refusal to add Green Party leader Eamon Ryan to tonight's televised party leaders debate has been dismissed by a High Court judge.

The RTE debate features seven party leaders from Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Fein, People Before Profit, the Social Democrats and Renua.

In judicial review proceedings by Green Party trustee Tom Kivlehan, it was argued RTE's criterion that only parties with three TDs in the outgoing Dail could be invited to participate was unfair, undemocratoc and unonstitutional.

In denying those claims, RTE said its critiera are objective, fair, transparent and applicable to all parties. The Greens were effectively seeking to have the broadcaster apply “subjective” criteria for televised party leaders’ debates that would favour the Greens over other parties, it also argued.

In her judgment today, Ms Justice Marie Baker agred with RTE's arguments. Her primary difficulty with the arguments advanced by Mr Kivlehan was thar many of the considerations that the Greens urged should be taken into account by RTE woudl favour the party over other possible participants in the TV debate.

The claim the refusal to invite Mr Ryan marked a failure to consider the strength and historical and international importance of Green Paerty policies but those factors were "overly subjective" and could lead to arguments of partiality and subjectivity, she said.

In this case, the criterion adopted by RTE have been made known to all relevant parties, she said. They were devleoped for the 2016 general election by an expert group which specifically had regard to the current political reality and plurality of parties.

The judge noted Mr Kivlehan and the Green party leader had suggested different criteria be used by RTE in fixing threshold criteria for inclusion in the  leaders' debate.

She did not consider it was the role of the High Court to identify in detail the criteria that must be applied by any broadcaster establishing threshold criteria of this type. 

The requirement that broadcasters act fairly and impartially cannot involve the broadcaster in considering the value, whether national or international, of the partcuar policy any party espouses, she added.

Mr Ryan was in court today.

Costs issues will be decided later. RTE said it will be seeking its costs.

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