You Shall Go To The Ball [Updated]


This evening.

“RTÉ is very mindful it has a duty to the public to reflect events as they unfold.

During the course of the campaign and over recent days RTÉ has taken into consideration the notable change in the dynamic of the campaign on the ground, and representation and statements by political parties.

The dynamic has also been consistently reflected in all opinion polls since the campaign commenced.

We now consider it necessary to amend our original approach, respond to the changes in the campaign, and continue to put the audience first in the making of Tuesday night’s programme.”

RTÉ statement this evening.

Mary Lou McDonald to take part in leaders’ debate (RTÉ)


David McCullagh and Miriam O’Callaghan of RTÉ’s Prime Time; Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald, during the seven way RTE leaders debate

On January 14 last, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that the election would take place on Saturday, February 8, 2020.

The following day, January 15, RTÉ released a press statement announcing details of its TV election debates. It noted:

In the final days of the campaign The Prime Time Leaders Debate will see the party leaders from the two largest political parties invited to take part in a live head-to-head studio debate.”

“In approaching election coverage the RTÉ Election Steering Group has regard to objective and impartial criteria, such as the results of the last comparable election (in this instance, the General Election 2016) and the results of intervening elections, such as the 2019 Local and European elections. Other factors are also considered in RTÉ coverage of the campaign.”

This morning.

RTÉ’s Political Correspondent Paul Cunningham reports:

“RTÉ’s General Election steering committee will meet at 11am to consider representations from Sinn Féin for Mary Lou McDonald to participate in the Prime Time leaders’ debate tomorrow night.

“Under the existing plan, the debate will be between the Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar and the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin.

“Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty, who made the request to RTÉ in person yesterday, has argued that recent opinion polls prove that the criteria used to exclude Ms McDonald are redundant.”

More as we get it.


Prime Time presenter Miriam O Callaghan with, from left: Micheál Martin of Fianna Fáil, Enda Kenny of Fine Gael and Eamon Gilmore of The Labour Party before a three-way leaders’ debate during the 2011 General Election

From the book Electoral Management: Institutions and Practices in an Established Democracy: The Case of Ireland by Fiona Buckley and Theresa Reidy…

In a chapter by Kevin Rafter:

Televised leaders’ debates have been a feature of Dáil elections since February 1982 with the sole exception of the 1989 election when agreement was not reached to organise a debate.

The seven debates between February 1982 and May 2007 shared several common features. In the first instance, participation was confined to the leaders of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the two largest parties, which in effect turned the encounters into ‘Prime Ministerial debates’ as holder of the office of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) have been drawn from these two parties.

In addition, there was always only one televised debate per campaign, and all these debates were hosted by RTÉ.

The nature of the leaders’s debate changed in the 2011 general election. The number of debates increased to four while the number of host broadcasters increased to three with the involvement of TV3 and the publicly owned Irish language service, TG4.

The debate on TG4 took place in the Irish language (all earlier debates were in the English language).

Finally, and undoubtedly the most important change in 2011 was an increase in the number of participating party leaders.

The leader of the Labour Party, traditionally the third largest party participated in all four debates while one of the debates was a five-way encounter involving all parties with a minimum representation in the outgoing Dáil.

Since 1988, the organisation of presidential debates in the USA has been overseen by an independent commission although they are still defined by ‘behind-the-scenes arguments about everything from the format of the questioners to the length of the response time, the placement of cameras, the height of podiums, and the location of water glasses’.

In an Irish context, these ‘debates about the debates’ involves private interaction between the main political parties and broadcasters. At the 2011 general election, each of the three broadcasters ultimately involved in broadcasting debates (RTÉ, TV3 and TG4) negotiated separately with the five main political parties. This was a different approach to the UK experience where the broadcasters ‘communicated and agree a concerted approach’.

RTÉ’s hosting of two leader debates in 2011 was preceded by eight months of informal conversations, email communication and formal face-to-face meetings.

In a post-election review, one RTÉ executive offered advice for colleagues involved in future debate negotiations:

“…avoid getting drawn into lengthy discussions on formats or rules and regulations – we make the TV, they provide the candidates – and at no stage did we get drawn into the sorts of intricate rules which were a feature of the UK debates.”

...The importance of being impartial and fair, and being seen to be so, was a central feature of RTÉ’s approach to election coverage in 2011.

Indeed, at the final internal SC [steering committee] meeting before polling day it was noted ‘with satisfaction that RTÉ’s coverage hadn’t featured as an election story and this was very welcome as an indication that we were providing extensive, accurate and fair coverage’.

There you go now.

RTÉ committee to meet over Sinn Féin participation in election debate (RTÉ)

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43 thoughts on “You Shall Go To The Ball [Updated]

  1. Kevin Higgins

    Gosh, becoming more problematic by the minute. So if RTE continues like a spinning top; should Ms McDonald then agree to appear with these two other party leaders, despite their pasts and the havoc they have wreaked on Irish society?

    If she does will she be giving them undue prominence and somehow ‘legitimising’ them. If she agrees to appear with them, will it give a signal that their decades of waste, corruption and incompetence can be set aside and that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are now fit to be part of Government?

    Of course no matter what transpires, no one looks more ridiculous or deeper in the dung than RTE. Having taken up an indefensible position, they now appear to be on the brink of reversing it, because apparently Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have no ‘objection’ to Ms McDonald’s inclusion in the Debate. So much for the ‘independence’ of the national public broadcaster.

    Who would have thought there so many hidden lids on Pandora’s little box ?
    Personally, I’m quite enjoying this.

    1. Clampers Outside

      Wtf arebyou on?

      You appear to be giving a pass to the “pasts and havoc on Irish society” of ML’s crowd as if they were saintly while decrying the other two… pffffft

      Laughable self delusional nonsense, in fairness

    2. Clampers Outside

      By the way, I’m all for ML’s inclusion in the debate. I just think your comment is bullsoup.

    1. Clampers Outside

      Of course they haven’t, SF keep telling everyone that they haven’t.

      But you can be sure some Shinners will call this ‘digging up the past’ when it is not the past if SF continues to declare ‘they haven’t gone away’, in fairness.

      1. theo kretschmar schuldorff

        If RTE do decide to let her on, I would like her to publish who’s on the SF Ard Chomhairle beforehand.
        Amid all the press coverage last week about who really wields the power over their politicians, nobody seemed to notice that the Ard Chomhairle membership is not published by them.

          1. theo kretschmar schuldorff

            Actually, here’s a list of them on finance docs from the SIPO website:

            Google finds some familiar names..


          2. Otis Blue

            Nice one.

            SF have long made a virtue of their elected representatives not taking their full salary and expenses. However, the arrangements for this are not at all clear. Some seem to, others not at all.


            So, are elected SF representatives required to surrender a portion of their legitimately earned salaries? If so, how much? And where does the remainder – all from the public purse- go? Some clarity on this would be welcome.

        1. frank

          Watch this ‘who’s the shadowy figures behind Sinn Fein?’ being spun to death.
          But who really funds and calls the shots within FFG?
          Lets hear how state contracts are, and always have been divided up between Fine Gael and Fianna Fail donors.

          The real reason Sinn Fein cannot enter central government is because the gigantic depth of corruption in the state would be laid bare.

          It use to be ‘sure he was in the IRA’, now that old guard is gone it’s… ‘sure they take their orders from the IRA army council’.

          Time for a change. There is no alternative

          Your man, the FG shilbot ‘Cian’ said to me here the other week ‘ not all change is good change’. I see Paschal Donohoe come out with something similar today “Very credible prospect of a change”, but warned it can only be negative without him at the helm.”

          It’s time for a change.

          1. Cian

            Hmmm. It is the obvious response to “time for a change” but the truth is that Paschal reads broadsheet and is copying my work.


    1. Cian

      They did.
      And now the the polls are saying that the top three are neck-and-neck (within the +-3% accuracy).
      RTE can’t predict who the top two will be so are including all three.

      We’ll see how Posh-girl McDonald copes.

      1. GiggidyGoo

        RTE, you mean, had no choice but to bow to the will of the electorate. Their excuse last week for only including two was?

  2. RuilleBuille

    Varadkar and Martin held a meeting and decided when to hold the election, what debates to take part in, and who to exclude.

    Their short sharp campaign has imploded as has their four year coalition. Time for change.

  3. Truth in the News

    RTE have stated that they base their decision on who is to participate in the
    debate on the previous election results in particular the previous General
    Election and now the latest spin phrase “Empirical Data” based on what
    Who are the Election Steering Group in RTE……who appointed or selected
    them, what are their terms of reference, the reality is that there is embedded
    in the physic of certain elements of RTE a hatred of the Shiinners dating
    back to the late 60’s when the SF Party split into two factions, with quite
    a few of what became the McGiolla faction well entrenched in Montrose
    No more than the Civil War mind set imbued in FF and FG,….they same
    exists as carried on in RTE as a result of the 1969 Sinn Fein split

  4. Slightly Bemused

    Just heard the sad news on RTE News that the Tipperary candidate Marese Skehan has passed away. As a result, the Tipperary election is put back, so none of them will be going to the ball on Saturday, and I mean that with deepest respect.

    I offer my sympathies and sincere condolences to Marese’s family and friends.

    1. GiggidyGoo

      Will the votes in the other constituencies be counted prior to the new voting date in Tipperary, or the boxes held unopened until the last vote is cast?

  5. Hector Ramirez

    What will happen if after all the crowing, MLMcD makes a shambles of the debate tomorrow night?

    Don’t think she faired too well on the one to one with Dobbo tonight. Didn’t answer the health question, iffy on the vacant land levies and in planet cuckoo
    Land on the funding United ireland (expecting UK to fund it, for a few years once reunited)

      1. GiggidyGoo

        Well, they haven’t the numbers of candidates compared to the rest. Some would normally not be elected in the normal run of things, but these are different times. The arrival of discussions like BS etc. has got people interested and politics is being looked at a bit more.
        An example, my other half would have had not great views on politics up to very recently. SF would not have been in the reckoning. Probably aren’t now either. But a lot more delving into what’s what and who is who and their records. FFG will be bottom of the list though. Same as my take.
        Bit SF have come into a lot more of people’s reckoning.

        1. ReproBertie

          For the last week or more the entire conversation has been about Sinn Féin and how the FFG coalition won’t deal with them. That’s made them the perfect option for people looking for an actual change instead of just shuffling the usual suspects about the departments.

          1. Lilly

            What will change look like: Shinners + Social Democrats + Greens + Labour + Independents + PPP?

            It would be great to leave FFG out of the loop, but not sure the numbers add up.

          2. Otis Blue

            The SF surge might actually have the opposite effect. They haven’t enough candidates to come through on the latest poll numbers. FFG vow not to deal with them. In such circumstances, best then sit it out and play the long game. Force FFG into another unhappy confidence and supply arrangement. Bring about a right/left divide. And wait…

            Another election will be along soon.

      2. Otis Blue

        I think they will. And there’s a lot in play.

        Given SF’s poor Euro and Local Election performance last year their recent surge is a crushing indictment on the established political parties. And they don’t get it.

        The post mortems will be fascinating.

  6. Truth in the News

    Ever wondered where the money came from to bale out the Banks or queried
    why the Billionaire Class pay no Tax and seek tax refuge off shore and behind
    the scenes pull the strings in both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael ……then there is
    questions for the Dublin based media and how they operate and all the spin
    they spew out and have done so with years…..just look at the spectacle of so
    called Public Service Broadcaster and their attempt to have a national levy
    applied to all Households irrespective of whether they had a TV or not
    In reality the Civil War has ended and the unfinished revolution of 1916 has
    begun, which incidentally the Founder of Sinn Fein one Aurthor Griffirh did not
    take part and five years later took the shilling,,,,,could history repeat itself….?

  7. Madam X

    When the cards fall after the 8th FF will go into government with SF . with a few independents L etc. All this BS from FF is only a bargaining stance. FF are so eager for power. However they may find SF will be no push over. Interesting times

Comments are closed.

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