‘Blatantly unfair’ that Social Democrat candidates are excluded from RTÉ election debates, says Cairns

Party leader to complain to State broadcaster over omission of Rory Hearne and Susan Doyle from televised European vote debates

It is “blatantly unfair” that Social Democrat candidates will not be included in two RTÉ television debates for the European elections, party leader Holly Cairns has said.

She told reporters on Wednesday that the party will be writing to the State broadcaster to complain that Rory Hearne and Susan Doyle will not be included in debates for the Midlands Northwest and Ireland South constituencies.

Separately, Ms Cairns said her party’s policy of using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) was under review, and was introduced by “a previous person in a senior position in the party”.

She said the practice, which emerged at the weekend, was to ensure the party’s obligations to “protect people’s very private, often personal information” and they had “no intention of suing anybody”.

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The Cork Southwest TD was speaking in Dublin, as her party launched its local and European election campaigns. Ms Cairns queried RTÉ's criteria for TV debates and said the impact such debates could have on an election campaign was “huge”, while her party’s mandate had grown over recent years.

Ms Cairns also said that it was “entirely appropriate” that an extraordinary meeting of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) was held after chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney announced she was stepping down earlier this year to seek the Social Democrats’ nomination to run in the European elections. Ms Gibney is standing in the Dublin constituency.

The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that records from the IHREC showed Ms Gibney’s departure to run for Europe sparked internal fears about the risk of a perception of “politicisation” or conflict of interest.

Internal minutes showed that an extraordinary meeting of the commission held after Ms Gibney’s announcement was told members of the IHREC executive had expressed “concerns ... regarding the perceived risk to IHREC’s independence”.

Responding to the report, Ms Cairns said: “I think it’s entirely appropriate that the commission would have had the meeting that was reported in The Irish Times and we know that after that steps were taken by Sinéad and the Commission in conjunction, to make sure that it was done in the right way, that there was a smooth transition.

“Sinéad stepped back from multiple duties like making decisions on legal matters, chairing meetings at a number of other things, to ensure that she could protect the reputation of the organisation and they did that really effectively together. I think it’s entirely appropriate that meeting would have happened.”

Ms Cairns said local election candidate Orli Degani, a Jewish woman with Israeli citizenship, was deselected by the party for Dún Laoghaire local electoral area (LEA) in the forthcoming elections because of a differing position on Gaza. Ms Degani is now running as an independent candidate.

“Fundamentally, our policy position on Gaza differed, especially with regard to boycott divestment settlements and there were objections to our members attending rallies,” Ms Cairns said.

“We had a very long and fair process where the national executive were involved and we engaged a mediator, she [Ms Delgani] had a right to appeal that decision and she didn’t, but we wish her well in the future.”

The Social Democrats leader also said she didn’t think the deselection would hurt the party in the upcoming elections and that people understood that sometimes candidates needed to be deselected, which was “a very difficult process”.

“Nobody wants that to happen. But there’s a time and a place for that and as long as the process is fair, I think people are happy,” she said.

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