WITH the Government now formed, and the main race all done and dusted, attention has switched to the race for the Seanad. That is, for everyone except our beloved State broadcaster.
RTE has been accused of reneging on its public broadcast remit after it bluntly stated that it would not be providing coverage for the elections to the Seanad because the vast majority of its audience has no say on who is elected.
The national broadcaster has been sharply criticised by Senators over the comments contained in a letter written by its Head of Public Affairs Policy, Peter Feeney.
Fianna Fail Senator Terry Leyden said this attitude by Montrose was one of the reasons why local radio was thriving and RTE radio was losing listeners by the tens of thousands.
The letter by Mr Feeney was a response to enquiries made by a candidate for the NUI panel, wildlife campaigner Brendan Price.
Mr Feeney stated: " . . . Basically RTE will not be providing much coverage of the Seanad elections. As you know, 43 Seanad places are filled by the various panels voted by elected local representatives, 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach and six are elected by graduates of the universities.
"What this means is that the vast majority of our audience has no say in who is elected to th Seanad. In these circumstances, RTE will not be covering campaigning for the Seanad to any great degree."
He added: "We are conscious that outgoing Senators may have an advantage through the publicity they receive as Senators and efforts are made to curtail their appearances in the run-up to the Seanad elections. As to other candidates, there is unlikely to be much coverage.
"If news broadcasts a report on the NUI elections, it would be obliged to identify all the candidates. There were 16 candidates for the three NUI places in 2002. This is an unwieldy number and makes reporting difficult," Mr Feeney wrote.
The letter has provoked an angry response with its recipient, Brendan Price, suggesting that the move was akin to censorship.
Independent Senator Mary Henry, who is not standing for the Seanad again, said it was a pity that RTE feels it can take so little interest in it.
"The Trinity electorate is nearly 50,000 and the NUI is more than 100,000. That is a significant number of people. The Seanad is the second house and a huge amount of legislation is entered in the Seanad first," Ms Henry said.
"I cannot see why the Seanad election is not part of RTE public service remit. The attitude is both odd and disappointing. Even from a news point of view, what Bertie Ahern will do with his nominations will be an interesting political story," she said.
Labour Senator Brendan Ryan said RTE's attitude seemed to be one of "if it is too difficult, we will ignore it".
"The truth is that the electorate for the two constituencies of NUI and Trinity is far in excess of the the audiences achieved for programmes they like to make a fuss of," Senator Ryan said.
"What they are basically saying is that they don't want to cover the election and they are using the spurious excuse of their obligation to be balanced in order not to do the work," he added.
Senator Ryan said that the Seanad was an important second house of the Oireachtas and if RTE chose to ignore this forum, it was not carrying out its duty to taxpayers.
"Whenever there is a problem about political balance, RTE's first option is to drop coverage completely," he added.
Senator Terry Leyden (FF) added: "RTE is remiss in carrying out its functions as a national broadcaster funded by the taxpayer.
"As the Seanad is the second house of the Oireachtas, the election to that body is an important part of the democratic process.
"This is where local radio is winning all the time. They are giving great coverage to the candidates for the Senate and it just goes to show why RTE radio audiences are plumetting and local radio is growing all the time," Senator Leyden added.