Belfast Telegraph

Row erupts between Fine Gael and RTE amid claim Mark Durkan is 'excluded' from debate

Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan is running for Fine Gael in the European elections in Dublin (PA)
Former SDLP leader Mark Durkan is running for Fine Gael in the European elections in Dublin (PA)

By Cormac McQuinn

A row has erupted between Fine Gael and RTE after minister Regina Doherty claimed that one of the party’s candidates has been “excluded” from an upcoming TV debate.

Ms Doherty said her party was not allowed choose which of their two Dublin candidates will appear on Monday night's Claire Byrne Live debate as the criteria set out by RTE meant Mark Durkan was disqualified.

Former SDLP leader and Northern Ireland deputy first minister Mr Durkan is running for Fine Gael in the capital alongside former Tanaiste and Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald.

The debates are only open to elected MEPs, TDs, councillors and Senators as well as politicians that got more than 5pc of the vote in the most recent European, General, Local or Presidential elections.

Ms Doherty said: "As Director of Elections for Fine Gael I’m disappointed that our national broadcaster dictated who we would put on the airwaves next week."

She added: "I don’t think it’s right that our national broadcaster should have excluded him."

She said Ms Fitzgerald will take part in the debate on Monday but that "RTE took that choice away from us".

RTE’s managing editor of current affairs David Nally responded to Ms Doherty’s remarks.

He said: “RTE current affairs decides who appears on its programmes in the best interests of the viewing public and not anybody else.”

He said that the reason Ms Fitzgerald was selected ahead of Mr Durkan is that RTE’s criteria for the debates say that where a party has two candidates in the same constituency, the one that is currently elected will be invited.

He said: “Frances Fitzgerald is currently elected to the Dail and Mark Durkan is not currently elected to any body.

“It’s the same reason why we invited Mairead McGuinness and not Maria Walsh,” he added - referring to the Midlands/North-West debate to be broadcast on Tuesday.

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