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Sinn Fein's Pearse Doherty says the party is considering to taking legal action against RTE. PA Wire/PA Images

Sinn Féin objects to Virgin Media for excluding Mary Lou from Leaders' debate

The party is also considering legal action against RTÉ for not including Sinn Féin.

SINN FÉIN’S PEARSE Doherty has written to Virgin Media objecting to a head-to-head debate between the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael leaders set to take place on Wednesday.

Doherty said the two parties received less than 50% support in the last election, and has called for Mary Lou McDonald not to be excluded from the debate. 

The party also confirmed today that it is considering taking legal action against RTÉ for excluding McDonald from one of the Leaders’ debates programmes due to be aired on 4 February. 

Speaking about the letter issued to Virgin Media, Doherty said: 

“I believe that facilitating a debate in the manner proposed is capable of affecting the outcome of the election by presenting the electorate with a false, binary choice between two parties with virtually the same policies.

“BAI rules acknowledge that broadcasters have a statutory obligation to ensure that all news and current affairs programming is fair, objective and impartial.”

He questions how Virgin Media can justify excluding Sinn Féin and its voter. 

“There is no substantial difference between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Their policies are much the same and this can be seen over their past four years in Government together.

“I am calling on Virgin Media to make public the criteria applied in reaching this decision. They should reverse this decision immediately and have a debate that’s actually representative of Irish society,” he said. 

Virgin Media Television argues that coverage is in accordance with BAI guidelines, with coverage allocated on the basis of party performance in the 2016 general election and the local elections in 2019.

RTÉ is also set to broadcast two live debates in the run up to the general election.

However, Sinn Féin has claimed the national broadcaster has “failed to live up to its responsibilities” as one of the debates will also only feature Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

The heads of the two largest parties are set to set to clash on Prime Time on 4 February while The Claire Byrne Live Leaders’ Debate a week earlier will feature the leaders of a number of political parties debate in front of a live audience.

McDonald has said it is a “farce” that she is being excluded from the RTÉ leaders head-to-head debate in the wake of a Sunday Times poll which puts her party within the margin of error of being the second largest in the country.

The Sunday Times/Behaviour & Attitudes poll published yesterday put Fianna Fáil on 32% of the vote – 12 points ahead of Fine Gael.

The poll placed Fine Gael at 20% and Sinn Féin at 19%.

Speaking to reporters today, the party’s spokesperson on housing Eoin Ó Broin confirmed that the party is considering taking legal action against the national broadcaster for excluding McDonald.

It is understood that TD Pearse Doherty, the Sinn Féin’s director of elections, will write to RTÉ today setting out the party’s opposition to the decision. 

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have said they would not go into coalition with Sinn Féin after the election, and Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty has accused RTÉ of “facilitating the gameplan” of the two parties by excluding his party and its leader Mary Lou McDonald from the Prime Time debate.

Doherty previously spoke out against the planned debate, stating that there is no difference between these two parties.

“They have the same ideology and the same outlook, and combined they received less than 50% of the votes of the Irish people at the last general election.

They have tried to carve up government and opposition, and now they want to carve up this election by excluding Sinn Féin. This election is about much more than these two parties and the media have a responsibility to make sure that all voices are heard. RTÉ’s decision is an utter joke.

Housing policy launch 

Ó Broin confirmed the threat of legal action today at the launch of Sinn Féin’s housing policy. The party has promised a rent freeze, a tax credit for renters, as well as more affordable homes built on State land. 

He also promised that Sinn Féin would reduce mortgage interest rates by giving the Central Bank powers to do so. 

He said that if Sinn Féin is elected to government it would also set a deadline for ending long-term homelessness, although he did not provide that date today. 

“This election isn’t just about the policies. It is also about who the public wants as the housing minister. Do they want Eoghan Murphy, whose stand-out achievements are records level of homelessness, sky-high rents and house prices, or ever rising social housing needs?

“Do they want [Fianna Fáil TD] Darragh O’Brien who has facilitated Fine Gael’s failed housing policy by repeatedly abstaining on budgets and motions of no confidence?” he said.

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