Belfast Telegraph

BBC chief dismisses DUP's call on debates

By Andrew Woodcock

BBC director general Lord Hall has written to the DUP to explain why it is not being invited to participate in televised debates ahead of the general election.

The DUP has protested at a format for the proposed debates set out by the four major broadcasters, which includes leaders from Ukip, the Greens, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru alongside the big three parties, but no representatives of Northern Irish parties.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that he wanted Northern Irish parties included, leading to accusations from Labour that he was seeking to duck the debates.

Lord Hall responded to a letter from the DUP - which has eight MPs at Westminster to the SNP's six, Plaid's three, Ukip's two and the Greens' one - to say that the position set out by the broadcasters had not changed.

Because the party political structure in Northern Ireland was different from that of the rest of the UK, the position of the DUP was not directly comparable with that of the SNP and Plaid, which will be competing with Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates in constituencies where they stand.

If the DUP was invited to take part, impartiality rules would require all of the Northern Ireland parties to be given a spot, the director general wrote.

Broadcasters are proposing a 7-7-2 format, under which two debates hosted by BBC and ITV would feature the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Ukip, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and a third on Channel 4 and Sky would pit Mr Cameron against Ed Miliband in a clash of the two men most likely to emerge as prime minister.

DUP leader Peter Robinson described the BBC response as "irrational". In a message on Twitter, Mr Robinson said he had "received irrational response from BBC DG re: debates. No valid reason for DUP's exclusion offered. Ignores fact that three parties currently invited stand in NI".

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