Fine Gael has been accused of “running away” from pre-election public debates, after declining to take part in a series of TV3 constituency discussions.
The party told the station it will not take part in any of the 40 shows that make up The People’s Debate with Vincent Browne, the first of which will be recorded tonight and aired next week.
It is understood Fine Gael officials had initially said they would be open to the debates, but wanted more details on scheduling, issues to be raised, and what other potential candidates would be taking part.
They also had concerns over being effectively bounced into election mode a full 15 months before the ballot will have to be called.
After ongoing discussions with TV3 over the details, the station sent a formal invitation at 11.40pm on Tuesday asking Fine Gael to take part in the debates.
Fine Gael subsequently said it no longer wanted to be considered and told its representatives not to take part, before TV3 sent further show details yesterday.
A Fine Gael spokesman said last night the party is “always very willing” to “debate the issues of the day”. However, he said its “focus now is to work relentlessly to fulfil” its mandate.
Opposition parties have claimed the move means the Coalition is “running away” from public debates.
“We do not consider participation in democratic debate to be an optional extra in public life. It’s critical to a healthy democracy,” a Fianna Fáil spokesman said.
“The decision to simply boycott public debates says a lot about how detached they’ve become from the public that elected them.”
A Sinn Féin spokesman said all parties were under the same restrictions in terms of what information is available about the debates but were willing to take part.
“This is the government parties running away from the debate. We’re not sure what will happen now they’ve pulled out, but as it stands we’re co-operating with the show,” he said.
Tonight’s recording takes place at the Grand Hotel in Wicklow without local Fine Gael TDs Andrew Doyle and Simon Harris, also the junior finance minister, and Labour TD Anne Ferris.
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