Belfast Telegraph

SDLP slams RTE plan to cover Sinn Fein ard fheis days before election

By Nevin Farrell

RTE has come under fire for giving Sinn Fein more than two hours of live television coverage for its party conference in Dublin next weekend - just days before the polls open for the Northern Ireland Assembly election.

Sinn Fein cancelled a planned February 5 ard fheis because RTE would not broadcast Gerry Adams's address during the Republic's general election campaign.

But the Irish State broadcaster has decided the rescheduled conference will be covered "in the conventional way" despite the clash with the May 5 election - angering the SDLP.

BBC Northern Ireland said its election guidelines prevented it from broadcasting Mr Adams's address next Saturday night.

Dolores Kelly, a former deputy leader of the SDLP, who is seeking re-election in Upper Bann, told The Sunday Times: "Sinn Fein have been critical of RTE taking a 'partitionist' view of television coverage.

"Surely this is another example, but I don't think it will receive the same level of criticism from Sinn Fein and their MLA (sic), Barry McElduff, who has raised the issue frequently."

Ms Kelly added: "RTE is popular in the North.

"We have great loyalty to it right across the nationalist community and it is disappointing they have taken this decision." RTE said its election steering group discussed Sinn Fein's April 22-23 ard fheis in the context of the election on May 5. A similar clash occurred in 2007.

The broadcaster added: "It was decided that, as previously, the ard fheis will be covered in the conventional way, including live broadcast of the leader's speech on April 23.

"Coverage of the elections will take account of the coverage of the Sinn Fein ard fheis."

Ofcom, the broadcasting regular in Northern Ireland, said: "Issues of impartiality on RTE are matters for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI)."

However, the BAI said it had no role in regulating RTE's output in Northern Ireland.

The Sinn Fein party conference will be covered live for two hours next Saturday by RTE, similar to the station's coverage of Labour, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail party conferences in January.

An SDLP spokesman said it had not officially contacted RTE on the issue and said the leadership would consider the RTE decision at a later stage and how to respond.

Mr McElduff has repeatedly accused RTE of having a partitionist mindset due to an alleged failure to consult listeners on this side of the border about the discontinuation of RTE Radio 1 on the long-wave frequency, and not selecting children from this side of the border to appear on the popular annual Late Late Toy Show.

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