RTÉ’S PRIME TIME programme has been criticised for excluding a number of smaller party candidates from its Meath East by-election debate tonight.
The debates features candidates from the four main parties, Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, but other candidates from smaller parties including the Green Party and the Workers’ Party have been excluded.
RTÉ said that an 11-way debate – featuring all candidates in the by-election- “would clearly have been impossibly unwieldy and have performed no public service at all” and said that “every political analyst agrees” on the four leading candidates in the by-election.
Workers’ Party candidate Seamus McDonagh claimed that Prime Time’s editor was unable to point out any “consistent criteria” by which he had decided to exclude other party candidates.
The left-leaning candidate said he had had hoped to be at least part of the studio audience for the debate and pointed out he had the support of a number of left-wing TDs in the Dáil including Richard Boyd-Barrett, John Halligan, Finian McGrath and Thomas Pringle.
McDonagh said: “Perhaps some reason could be presented to allocate some candidates with more time than others but to not even invite a candidate such as myself, who has the backing of elected national and local representatives, to be part of a studio audience for such a debate is a disgrace.”
The Green Party candidate Seán Ó Buachalla tweeted to say he had also been excluded from the debate:
The Direct Democracy Ireland candidate Ben Gilroy said that he had been ignored by the State broadcaster.
“RTÉ have just basically ignored us completely,” he told TheJournal.ie this evening.
In a statement provided to this website, RTÉ said:
To enable viewers to make sense of the issues in a relatively short debate, we decided to limit it to the four leading candidates. Every political analyst agrees that those four are the candidates of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour and Sinn Fein.
We will be mentioning all of the other candidates as well. The Workers’ Party claim about excluding left anti-austerity candidates is not valid because Sinn Fein are taking part.
Fine Gael’s Helen McEntee, Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne, Labour’s Eoin Holmes and Sinn Féin’s Darren O’Rourke are participating in the debate on RTÉ One at 10.35pm.
There are also four non-party candidates running in the Meath East by-election including Charlie Keddy, Jim Tallon, Mick Martin and Gerard O’Brien.