The debate, broadcast on February 15, featured seven leaders, from Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, the Social Democrats, and Renua.
Just hours before the debate, Ms Justice Marie Baker gave her High Court ruling dismissing arguments by Green Party trustee Tom Kivlehan that the broadcaster’s criterion stipulating only parties with three TDs in the outgoing Dáil could be invited to participate was unfair, undemocratic, and unconstitutional, and breached RTÉ’s legal obligations a public service broadcaster.
The judge found RTÉ’s criteria were “sufficiently reasonable and impartial”, not unfair or irrational, and proportionate to the needs of the political debate and the public’s right to be informed and educated in an engaging live programme.
Her primary difficulty with the arguments advanced by Mr Kivlehan was that many of the considerations the Greens urged should be taken into account by RTÉ would favour the party over other possible participants in the TV debate, she said.
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The judge also ruled that RTÉ’s choice of criteria can be judicially reviewed and said “fundamental and core democratic ideals”, including the right to freedom of expression, were raised in the proceedings.
When costs issues came before the judge on Wednesday, Nuala Butler, counsel for RTÉ, said it was seeking its costs and the normal rule that costs go to the winning side should apply.
Siobhán Phelan, counsel for Mr Kivlehan, indicated her side would contend the case raised issues of public importance and the normal rule on costs should not apply.
Because the judge was at hearing in another matter, she said she would hear arguments on March 2.