Order in the house: debate rules


RULES OF engagement, similar to those established ahead of the televised party leaders’ debates during last year’s elections in the UK, were agreed before the TV3 debate between the leaders of Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party.

In negotiations, TV3 proposed following the British model in which the moderator does not ask follow-up questions and does not criticise or comment on the leaders’ answers. However, the right of journalist Vincent Browne to “seek factual clarification where necessary” was reserved.

It was agreed Browne would sit between Micheál Martin and Eamon Gilmore, and their positions either to the right or left of him were determined by the drawing of lots.

Mr Gilmore sat to the right of Browne, but on the left from the viewer’s perspective.

Late on Monday night, Fianna Fáil and Labour representatives finalised arrangements with TV3 executives and learned the general themes of questions that would be asked, having also met on Sunday to discuss the structure of the programme.

Representatives from both parties pushed for the leaders to be allowed to debate at lecterns rather than sitting behind a desk, but said they were told technical issues in the studio would not allow for this. They also asked for an empty lectern or chair to represent Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s absence from the debate due to his refusal to participate, but this was rejected.

The participants were informed of broad themes and the order in which the topics would be addressed. These included addressing the deficit; jobs; public service reform; health; education; political reform and coalition. The right to ask a question on a “major breaking news story of the day” was reserved.

There was little discussion with the Fianna Fáil and Labour representatives around Browne’s role as moderator. It was established that Mr Martin and Mr Eamon Gilmore would speak for one minute at the opening of the programme.