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'I don't think it worked': Micheál Martin isn't too happy about the crowded line ups for this week's TV debates

Martin has suggested a ‘threshold’ for candidates might be used the next time around.

There were eight candidates in the studio on Tuesday night.
There were eight candidates in the studio on Tuesday night.
Image: RTÉ Player

FIANNA FÁIL LEADER Micheál Martin has said he did not like the structure of the live television debates on RTÉ, stating that there were too many candidates featured. 

RTÉ held a series of debates ahead of the European elections.

Martin has suggested a “threshold” for candidates might be used the next time around, and that a separate debate between candidates from the larger political parties might be an option. 

Speaking after Tuesday night’s debate for the Midlands North-West constituency, in which eight candidates were on stage, Martin said:

“I don’t think it worked. I don’t think the model is a model to be followed.”

He added that “in terms of debates, there possibly should be some threshold in terms of the support base of political parties that would govern one type of debate, others could participate in another debate. When you have to up to 10 candidates, it is extremely hard to manage”. 

Time allocation

The party leader criticised having a large number of candidates in a debate, believing that the time constraints do not serve the viewer or voter well.

“I think when you go above four or five candidates in a debate you are in difficulty… I mean you are talking about 50 odd minutes over 10 candidates, that averages four or five minutes, you then have to cut to the other candidates in terms of their minute presentations (candidates who did not take part in the debate had pre-recorded videos aired), so you are looking at extraordinarily little time.”

Martin was quick to add that this is just his view, adding: “Who am I to suggest to the greater powers of broadcasting”. 

RTÉ declined to comment on the party’s leaders comments on the debate format when put to them by TheJournal.ie.

Two TDs have also aired their concerns about the format of debates in the run up to elections. 

Fianna Fáil’s Thomas Byrne told RTE’s Late Debate radio programme that having large numbers of candidates on the televised debates “is not representative of the views in Ireland” and questioned whether they should all get equal time.

He accepted the RTÉ has a public broadcasting remit and must be balanced, but he added “it is not fair”.

Byrne said both Fianna Fáil candidates running in the Midlands North-West constituency should have been on the television debate, as should all of Fine Gael’s candidates, due to them being from a “substantial party”.

‘Not to the detriment of larger parties’

When asked why shouldn’t independent voices or candidates from parties with a lower popularity in the polls get the same allotted time as others, he said “not to the detriment of parties who have very large popular support out there”.

Speaking about the issue on the same radio programme this week, Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell said:

“I don’t want to diminish the right of individuals to stand in a TV debate, but there is an element of false equivalence in the manner the debates are being formatted right across the board. I am not going to isolate RTÉ because TV3 have done it in the past as well.” 

He also has concerns about smaller groupings sharing time with the larger parties, stating that “if a party is on 1% and the party standing beside them is on 25% they are given the same amount of time”.

He suggested that there are other methods the formats could be organised, suggesting that previous election results be looked back on to determine the speaking time.  

“There are several different methods of determining how much time an individual should get on the television,” he said. 

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said larger political parties already have a suite of advantages, and that not giving smaller grouping candidates or independents  would only exaggerate them.

He added it would be an “attempt to shut the door on other political forces”. 

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