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Rory Hearne, Social Democrats candidate for Midlands-North West Sam Boal
no fair

Independent and Social Democrats candidates blast RTÉ for exclusion from 'key' debates

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns says “something is seriously wrong” with the national broadcaster if it’s not platforming her party’s candidates.

EUROPEAN ELECTION CANDIDATES have hit out at RTÉ for excluding some of them from debates in the lead up to the June vote.

Independent Ireland’s Ciaran Mullooly, who is running in the Midlands-North West constituency, accused the national broadcaster of not following guidance from Coimisiún na Meán on the selection of candidates for debates.

Meanwhile, Social Democrats candidate Rory Hearne, also for Midlands North-West, said he was “angry” to also be “excluded”.

“Here is RTÉ, the public sector broadcaster, deciding on some arbitrary decision not to give me the opportunity to engage in the discussion,” he said in a video posted to X.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns says “something is seriously wrong” that candidates such as Hearne and Ireland South’s Susan Doyle have been excluded. 

RTÉ must reverse this unfair and discriminatory decision.

She cited the party’s “hugely increased mandate” in recent years, given it has tripled its number of TDs in the Dáil, has 22 councillors and is running candidates in all three European constituencies.

“Despite this, we are still included in just one television debate,” said Cairns.

“This is deeply unfair and does little to reflect the increased mandate the party received in the 2019 local election and general election in 2020.”

‘Fair not equal’

The election for local representatives and for the European parliament is just 19 days away.

RTÉ’s director general Kevin Bakhurst “for the avoidance of any doubt” shared a link online to the broadcaster’s criteria for participation in debates.

The guidelines stated that “fair treatment does not mean equal treatment”, and stipulated that only eight candidates – out of more than 20 per constituency – will appear in each television debate.

This is to “ensure they are as informative and coherent as possible to best serve the audience,” RTÉ said in a statement earlier this month announcing the debates.

“There will be a fair allocation of live coverage that recognises electoral record, but also provides scope for RTÉ to provide airtime to a diverse range of views, in accordance with election rules set out by the regulator, Coimisiún na Meán.”

Mullooly, a former RTÉ midlands correspondent, said the lineup did not reflect recent polls, which have shown that Independent candidates have overtaken Sinn Féin, as well as government parties, as the most popular choice for voters.

A poll by The Journal and Ireland Thinks last week found that almost a quarter of people (24%) plan to vote for candidates classed as ‘independents and others’, up from 17% last month.

Meanwhile, 5% of respondents said they’d vote for a Social Democrats candidate.

“The last test of the electoral popularity of many of the individual candidates in this European Parliament campaign was a full five years ago,” said Mullooly.

“Most of those who went before the public at that stage have not had an opportunity to indicate an increase or decline in their support from the electorate since 2019, and two of the four MEPs elected in Midlands North West at that time have since left office.”

He said he intends to raise “this very significant discrepancy in the interpretation of the guidelines” with Bakhurst today.

Sitting Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Michael Fitzmaurice, has supported Mullooly’s statement, saying: “It’s hard to believe a candidate for a party with three sitting TDs, who is in serious contention for a seat according to every poll, would be excluded from a key TV debate. 

“But the deck is loaded it seems. It’s the same old story, but it is very unfair to new independent candidates and candidates from smaller parties or newer parties.

“Yes, there has to be limits but to be fair, applying a bit of common sense would greatly improve the public’s trust in the process.”

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