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DUP leader Peter Robinson to write to BBC and ITV over party's exclusion from general election TV debates

Published 22/01/2015

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said he would be writing to the BBC and ITV demanding an explanation for the DUP's exclusion
Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said he would be writing to the BBC and ITV demanding an explanation for the DUP's exclusion

DUP leader Peter Robinson is write to broadcasters to ask why his party is not included in general election TV election debates.

Northern Ireland parties will not be invited to the debates under revised plans put forward by broadcasters despite the DUP being the fourth largest party in Parliament in terms of their number of MPs.

The First Minister said he would be writing to the BBC and ITV demanding an explanation for the exclusion of his party - pointing out that with eight MPs, it had a larger Commons presence than the SNP (6), Plaid (3) or the Greens (1).

The DUP's deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the reported exclusion of his party could not be justified.

 "It is ludicrous to exclude us when parties with fewer seats and fewer votes are being included," said the North Belfast MP.

Broadcasters are reportedly preparing to schedule seven-way television debates involving the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru alongside the four larger parties.

The debates would be a U-turn on previously announced plans that excluded the Green Party and would have just included the Coalition parties, Ukip, and Labour.

A spokesperson for the broadcasters said: "The broadcasters remain committed to providing election debates in the run up to the general election.

"The debates played an important role in informing millions of our viewers in 2010 and we will continue to work with all the parties to ensure that they happen again in 2015."

Meanwhile the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett - whose party organised a petition which attracted more than 280,000 signatures in favour of the party's inclusion - welcomed the news of the revised format.

David Dimblebly with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown after a 2010 election debate
David Dimblebly with David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown after a 2010 election debate

"Thank you to everyone who campaigned," she wrote on Twitter. "We haven't yet had official notification but it looks like you succeeded."

  SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson said: "If it is true that SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon will be included in UK-wide debates under the broadcasters' new proposals, it represents very welcome progress.

 "With a larger membership than the Lib Dems and Ukip combined, and more elected MPs than Ukip, the case for including the SNP in the televised debates is unanswerable."

With the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens all led by women, he said, it would "rightly show that politics beyond Westminster isn't just an old boys' club".

Plaid leader Leanne Wood said: "We have always maintained that it is an important democratic principle that people in this election should be presented with a clear picture of the choice that they face on polling day.

 

"This is a significant victory for the vast number of people who have campaigned for the inclusion of the anti-austerity parties in these debates.

"I look forward to taking part and making the case for Wales to have as strong a voice as possible in Westminster."

BBC director general Tony Hall told Radio Times it made " absolute sense to have the involvement of the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Greens and Ukip".

"This time round the debates are going to be more important to democracy than last time round.

 "I don't know anyone who can call this election, therefore the notion of hearing those who are competing for your vote being tested and testing one another, is much more important than last time round."

A Liberal Democrat spokesman confirmed that it had received the new proposals and indicated it remained opposed to Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband being able to go head-to-head without Nick Clegg.

"We have only just received these new proposals," he said.

"We have always been clear that as a party of government, we must be able to defend our record in all the TV debates.

 

"We will continue to make that case in our discussions with the broadcasters."

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