Belfast Telegraph

DUP considering legal challenge over exclusion from ITV debate

By Noel McAdam

The DUP is set to consider a legal challenge after being left out of a major General Election debate on ITV.

Arlene Foster's party has eight MPs at Westminster, but has been relegated to a regional programme involving the other Stormont parties.

The DUP has double the MPs of Ukip, the Greens and Plaid Cymru combined, who have all been invited.

And like the DUP, the SNP and Plaid Cymru only organise in one UK region.

Conservative leader Theresa May and Labour chief Jeremy Corbyn have already refused to take part in a TV leaders' debate planned for May 18.

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson said last night: "Yet again, a national broadcaster has disgracefully omitted the main NI party from this leaders' debate.

"When you consider the DUP has far more MPs than Plaid Cymru and has eight times more than the Greens, it really beggars belief that the national broadcasters are discriminating against Northern Ireland.

"They cannot argue that these debates are exclusively for national parties since it is evident that Plaid Cymru do not organise outside Wales, and indeed the Scottish National Party does not organise outside Scotland.

"We took a legal challenge on the last time and will await further developments as to whether these programmes actually take place, with Mrs May and Mr Corbyn so far refusing. We will consider taking a legal challenge in light of developments."

An ITV spokesman said there would be leaders' debates involving the parties in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland in separate programmes.

"Northern Irish voters have a different set of electoral choices, and these will be represented in the UTV Debate," a spokesman added.

Before the last General Election, back in May 2015, the DUP initiated court proceedings against the BBC over its exclusion from a mainland General Election debate.

A submission from the party at the time argued there were predictions the DUP could hold the balance of power after the election and determine the next Prime Minister.

It also argued three of the parties - the Conservatives, Ukip and the Greens - were contesting the election in the province, with both Ukip and the Greens represented in the Assembly at the time.

The BBC, however, dismissed the DUP arguments, saying "there is a distinct separation between the party political structure of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK".

It also said that "to include only the DUP out of the larger Northern Ireland parties would breach our obligation of due impartiality, giving the DUP prominence in a way which would be unfair to other larger Northern Ireland parties".

The corporation had added that including all the larger Northern Ireland parties would entail a debate with more than 10 participants "which would be unwieldy and would diminish the value of the debate to the UK-wide audience".

The Prime Minister and Labour leader had ruled out being involved in the leaders' debate even before ITV had confirmed plans for their televised showdown.

Broadcasters have come under pressure to "empty chair" leaders refusing to take part in debates, but an ITV source indicated that "we will have the right number of podiums for the people who are there".

A Tory source said the party was "unwavering" in its opposition to the Prime Minister taking part in a debate.

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: "Jeremy will not take part in an opposition leaders' debate.

"The British people have the right to see a head-to-head debate between the only two people who could form the next government and the Prime Minister's refusal is a sign of weakness, not of strength."

Both Lib Dem leader Tim Farron and Ukip's Paul Nuttall have confirmed they will take part.

A Panelbase poll indicated 61% of Britons would watch a televised leader debate, and 52% would watch even if Mrs May refused to take part.

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