Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland deserves a place on TV debates

Editor's Viewpoint

Some people might find it difficult to believe that there is such controversy over the line-up for the television debates prior to the general election in May.

It could be argued that people have become sceptical of most comments which politicians make, and that the public may listen with only one ear when the televised debates eventually take place.

If the debates had been confined to the main parties there might have been less trouble, but once David Cameron suggested that the Greens should be included, the ensuing confusion was predictable.

It is far too late now to put the genie back in the bottle, and there is a danger that the current mess will create further disillusion among the electorate.

Nevertheless, the debates are taken seriously by the politicians themselves, who regard these as important opportunities to impress the voters, and they will certainly try to make the best impression possible.

Indeed some believe that Nick Clegg's performances in the debates last time provided a huge electoral boost for him and his party, though this might not be the case next time. The Liberal Democrats have not endeared themselves to the electorate in their role as coalition partners with the Tories.

In such a context, it is important that the First Minister Peter Robinson has made an issue of the failure of Northern Ireland politicians to be included in the nationalised television debates.

This is a matter of standing up for the rights of the people of Northern Ireland, and there is no argument good enough to sustain an approach where Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Scottish Nationalists can take part, but the DUP or even Sinn Fein are to be excluded.

The senior DUP politician Nigel Dodds is right to stress that "once you begin to involve regional parties, then you have to invite all the regions of the United Kingdom to participate".

The matter is still ongoing, and the final outcome of this political horse-trading is not yet clear.

However, our local politicians are right to underline that Northern Ireland, which has occupied so much of the UK's time, money and political skills, cannot be treated as an afterthought.

Either Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom or it is not, and the voters here should not be fobbed off.

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