Northern Ireland

DUP in TV debate independent body call

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Media captionThe Alliance party, DUP and the SDLP speak to the BBC ahead of a discussion on the television election debates at Westminster

The DUP have been using parliamentary time in Westminster to call for an independent body to be put in charge of television election debates.

It comes after the BBC Trust rejected the party's appeal to take part in debates ahead of the general election.

Last week, the DUP said the decision defied belief.

The discussion at Westminster was proposed by the DUP after the party was excluded from planned televised debates involving seven parties.

The parties invited to take part in the debates are the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.

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Image caption The DUP has more MPs than four of the seven UK parties invited to take part in the TV debates

The DUP is the biggest party in Northern Ireland and the fourth largest party in the House of Commons.

With eight MPs, the DUP has more members elected to the House of Commons than four of the seven parties that have been invited to participate.

The BBC, Sky, ITV and Channel Four plan to hold three debates in April.

However, that original format is now in doubt after Prime Minister David Cameron said he would only take part in one debate with seven party leaders before 30 March.

The DUP motion says the debates have been "inconsistently and incompetently formulated" by the broadcasters.

It says "there exists a substantial danger as a result that these debates will now not happen".

The party wants future election debates to be organised by an independent body.

Speaking ahead of the debate, the DUP's Nigel Dodds said there was "enormous sympathy" at Westminster over the DUP's "exclusion" from the debates.

"What we are calling for is an independent commission which will oversee this, take it out of the hands of broadcasters and politicians and make sure they happen," he said.

Foyle SDLP MP Mark Durkan said there had been a "debacle" in terms of how the election debates had been handled.

Image caption Foyle SDLP MP Mark Durkan said there had been a "debacle" in terms of how the election debates had been handled

"It shouldn't be just down to the broadcasters to get together in a cabal and decide what sort of formats they are looking for, nor should it be just for party leaders to shoot down options and then we end up with nothing."

Alliance MP Naomi Long said it was "slightly self indulgent" to be debating debates in parliamentary time "particularly when we have a crisis facing the Northern Ireland process".

"However, I believe that all parties who have one member or more in this parliament ought to be included in those debates, if you are going to break with the tradition that is only the parties who are likely to form a government that are going to do that," she said.

"The basis for discrimination between different parties in terms of running right across the UK or not running right across the UK has now been blown out of the water by a change that the media have made.

"The only alternative is for them to go back to the original format that they have always followed, because otherwise we risk having more people on the panel in the debate than are actually watching it at home."

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