Belfast Telegraph

DUP demands party's place in TV election debates

By Amanda Ferguson

If broadcasters are going to invite Scottish and Welsh parties to take part in general election debates, they cannot exclude the DUP, its deputy leader has warned.

North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds slammed the BBC and ITV for not including his party - which he said could play "a very crucial role" in the next Parliament - in the live TV debates.

His criticism comes after the Conservative Party chairman indicated PM David Cameron would now take part in the proposed debates - expected to include Labour, the Tories, Lib Dems, Ukip, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

Grant Shapps said final negotiations needed to take place, but added: "We are edging towards a solution on this, which is good".

Last week DUP leader Peter Robinson wrote a letter to the BBC, ITV and communications regulator Ofcom to complain his party, the fourth biggest in Parliament, has been snubbed.

Then at the weekend, DUP deputy leader Dodds told Dermot Murnaghan of Sky News: "Once you begin to involve regional parties, then you have to invite all regions of the UK to participate."

He added: "But the broadcasters have now caused great confusion and caused great difficulty for themselves and for the British public by inviting some regional parties, but not including all the regions. Once you go down the road of inviting some regional parties that have their own distinctive arguments, whether it be in Scotland or Wales, you've got to apply exactly the same arguments for Northern Ireland participation.

"A party like us, the DUP that has eight MPs, could play a very crucial role in the next Parliament."

He branded it a "farcical situation".

The DUP has eight seats, which is more than the SNP (6), Plaid Cymru (3) and the Greens (1). Other local parties with elected MPs - Sinn Fein (5), SDLP (3) and Alliance (1) - have said they would like to take part.

Sinn Fein has said it would challenge any attempt to discriminate against the party by excluding it.

Meanwhile, Ukip's only MLA David McNarry said he supports the DUP's inclusion in the debates and accused local broadcasters of "clearly acting against" his own party.

"I support the DUP case for inclusion in the forthcoming national televised election leaders' debates," he said. "By the same token, would they support Ukip's inclusion in the regional TV debates on UTV and BBC NI?

"After all, if the DUP's case has merit for national television then so should Ukip's case for regional television."

Broadcasters have confirmed plans for a 7-7-2 format, with two debates hosted by the BBC and ITV to include the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Ukip, the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru. A third on Channel 4 and Sky would feature David Cameron against Ed Miliband.

Proposed broadcast dates are April 2, 16 and 30.

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