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Fine Gael aren't sending ANY representatives to Vincent Browne's constituency debates

Labour is also holding fire on sending representatives to The People’s Debate with Vincent Browne.

Updated 10.25pm

FINE GAEL WILL not be putting forward ANY representatives for the 40 constituency debates being organised by TV3′s Tonight with Vincent Browne programme this year.

‘The People’s Debate with Vincent Browne’ is due to tour the country in the coming months and hold town hall style debates in each of the 40 Dáil constituencies.

The first of these debates is due to be pre-recorded in Wicklow tomorrow evening and broadcast next week.

But the biggest party in the country has decided not to participate amid concerns that it is being bounced into general election debates some 15 months before a vote is theoretically due to take place.

The party’s press office has this evening emailed its parliamentarians explaining that it has decided not to put forward any representatives amid concerns over the lack of detail on schedules, running orders and debate participants.

TV3 insisted this evening that a full programme format has been sent to all parties with a detailed breakdown of how the programme will be devised and operated.

“To say other otherwise is incorrect. TV3 is disappointed that this valuable opportunity to convey their political message to our viewers has been turned down by Fine Gael,” a spokesperson said.

It’s understood that the Labour party shares the concerns of its coalition colleagues and all three government TDs that were due to participate in the first debate tomorrow have been withdrawn.

A Labour spokesperson said that the party would consider participating in debates “at some stage in the future, but only much closer to an election”.

Fine Gael’s media team was particularly concerned about the organisation of the debates having only received notification earlier this week that the first one was due to be pre-recorded in Wicklow tomorrow evening.

Late notice

The Fine Gael press office received a three-page letter late on Tuesday night outlining the proposal for the debates with a request for the party to put forward representatives for the 40 debates being organised over the next 40 weeks. The short notice is understood to have contributed to the party’s decision.

This website has learned that a running order for tomorrow’s first debate was only sent to the Fine Gael press office this afternoon after the party declined to participate.

Meanwhile, a Labour source said that the party had never fully agreed to participate in the first place having only been told about the debates on Monday, being informed in writing yesterday and receiving a running order late this afternoon.

This first debate is due to be recorded at the Grand Hotel in Wicklow tomorrow evening with local Fine Gael TDs Andrew Doyle and Simon Harris, who is the junior finance minister, as well as local Labour TD Anne Ferris, all having been lined up to participate.

No one from the Vincent Browne production team was immediately available for comment but a spokesperson for TV3 said: ”The People’s Debate series of programmes from each of the general election constituencies is a major undertaking in Public Service Broadcasting by TV3, Ireland’s independent national Public Service TV station.

“The programme has been advised by the Fine Gael Press Director and the Government Press Secretary that their party members will not engage in these important programmes because ‘there is no election’ and because ‘it would not be appreciated by the public when the government still has a major job of work to do’.

“TV3 is merely trying to provide an important public service for its viewers, at major cost, by highlighting constituency issues and by allowing members of the public have their say by engaging in debate with public representatives and would-be candidates from all parties in the run up to the general election campaign.

“A full programme format has been sent to all parties with a detailed breakdown of how the programme will be devised and operated. To say other otherwise is incorrect. TV3 is disappointed that this valuable opportunity to convey their political message to our viewers has been turned down by Fine Gael. ”

Reacting tonight to the government parties’ decision to withdraw from the debates, a Fianna Fáil spokesperson said: “Fianna Fáil do not consider participation in democratic debate to be an optional extra in public life – it’s critical to a healthy democracy.

“The decision of the government parties to simply boycott public debates says a lot about how detached they’ve become from the public that elected them and simply isn’t sustainable.”

‘The People’s Debate’ is also due to visit the constituencies of Clare, Galway West and Dublin North West this month.

Watch: TV3′s swanky new ad features a brilliantly creepy shot of Vincent Browne

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Hugh O'Connell

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