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SNP, Plaid Cymru and Ukip support DUP’s case for inclusion in TV poll debate

By Liam Clarke

The SNP, Plaid Cymru and Ukip have all written to DUP leader Peter Robinson telling him they have no objection to him taking part in the national television debates alongside them.

All the major parties in the debates have now expressed some level of support and none has objected.

Mr Robinson pledged: "We will fight for the case for Northern Ireland. We have requested meetings with the broadcasters to discuss the matter further."

He called the broadcasters' decision "unjustified and indefensible".

If that move doesn't succeed, the DUP leader will decide whether to take a court case against ITV and BBC. They are in the line of fire because they intend to stage a debate with seven party leaders: Prime Minister David Cameron, Labour's Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg, Ukip's Nigel Farage, the Greens' Natalie Bennett, the Scottish National Party's Nicola Sturgeon and Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood.

Sky News and Channel 4 plan to host a head-to-head between Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband, as the two leaders most likely to be Prime Minister following the election and no action against them is being considered. It is understood that the likely cost of the case would be at least £40,000.

The letter written to Mr Robinson by Leanne Wood, the Plaid Cymru leader, states: "As you will know, Plaid Cymru made many of the arguments that you have outlined in your letter as part of our representations to the broadcasters and regulators."

It concludes: "Plaid Cymru would have no objection if the broadcasters decided to include parties from Northern Ireland in the televised debates."

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wrote in similar terms: "The SNP has a track record of having argued positively for inclusion in these debates at the last general election. While none of the parties included in the proposed debates have any Westminster seats in Northern Ireland - which makes it a very different situation from Scotland, Wales and England, nevertheless the SNP has no objection to Northern Ireland parties being included."

Mr Robinson said: "Respected commentators predict the DUP could hold the balance of power after the general election, therefore, it is right that the DUP play a full role in the debates before the election.

"Whilst the debate about the debates has exposed the broadcasters' bias against Northern Ireland, it has also served to highlight how crucial every Northern Ireland seat could be in the next Parliament.

"We can't see any reason why the DUP are not included. There is no objective justification."

Mr Cameron, Labour and the Lib Dems also support the DUP's inclusion to various degrees.

Background

The DUP has eight MPs at Westminster, the SDLP has three, Alliance has one. There is also one independent unionist, Sylvia Hermon. Sinn Fein has five MPs who don't take their seats at Westminster so, although they also wish to take part in the debates, they have a weaker case. By comparison the SNP has six mps, Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party of Wales, has three, the Greens have one and Ukip has two.

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