Court dismisses Ben Gilroy’s challenge to exclusion from RTÉ debate

Judge agrees with counsel that action brought in bid to enhance electoral prospects

Ben Gilroy is pictured leaving the Four Courts on Tuesday. Photograph: Collins Courts.

Ben Gilroy is pictured leaving the Four Courts on Tuesday. Photograph: Collins Courts.

 

A High Court judge has dismissed a legal challenge by Ben Gilroy, an independent European election candidate, over RTÉ’s decision not to include him in a live television debate.

Mr Justice Senan Allen said the proceedings by Mr Gilroy had “no legal basis”. He agreed with Niamh Hyland SC, for RTÉ, that the application was brought in an attempt to enhance his electoral prospects in the May 24th vote.

A separate action by another independent candidate, Eamonn Murphy, who is also seeking election as MEP for Dublin and has not been invited to participate in the programme, is due before the High Court on Wednesday.

In his action, Mr Gilroy claimed his exclusion from the May 20th RTÉ debate was unfair, undemocratic and that he had a right to be heard. He claimed the decision to exclude him and other candidates breached regulations set out by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland on elections.

He argued RTÉ was in breach of its remit as a national broadcaster and was giving an unfair advantage to the established politicians and parties.

Declaration

In his submissions, Mr Gilroy said he did not want to stop the debate and was not seeking an injunction that would compel the broadcaster to include him in the debate and simply wanted a declaration that RTÉ’s decision was unfair.

RTÉ disputed the claims with its head of current affairs David Nally saying in a sworn statement that certain criteria are set down by the broadcaster for inclusion on the live debates, including being already elected to European parliament or Dáil, or polling more than 5 per cent of votes in a recent national election.

He said Mr Gilroy did not meet those criteria and a court order would cause considerable problems for any debate. He said there were 19 candidates in Dublin and 59 people seeking election to the European Parliament overall.

Mr Nally said there was no system that would please all candidates but RTÉ was satisfied the selection criteria were fair, objective and impartial.

Publicity

In her submissions, Ms Hyland said RTÉ had believed it was in court to meet an application by Mr Gilroy for an interim order that would allow him to participate in the planned debate. As that was not sought, there was no urgency to the case, the proceedings were not properly conceived, and should have been brought by judicial review. It appeared the application was an attempt by Mr Gilroy to generate publicity to advance his electoral ambitions, she said.

Mr Justice Allen agreed with counsel and said the court and RTÉ had initially believed Mr Gilroy was seeking an urgent interim injunction to allow him participate in the programme. That was not so and Mr Gilroy was now looking for some sort of an interim declaration that might help his electoral prospects, he said.

The court could not make such an order, as it is not known in law, and Mr Gilroy should have known that, the judge said.