RTÉ's first European elections TV debate to focus on Midlands-North-West tonight

Only eight of the 27 candidates will be allowed appear on the programme which begins at 10.35pm

Given the second-tier nature of European Parliament elections, and the sheer size of the constituencies, it is not logistically possible for candidates to employ traditional methods of canvassing.

For that reason, TV debates are seen to play a larger part in deciding who gets elected and who does not. For example, the former Green Party candidate Saoirse McHugh was an unknown in 2019, but her strong performance in an RTÉ debate focused on the Midlands-North-West (MNW) constituency – where she challenged Independent candidate Peter Casey’s views on immigration – saw her finish a credible fifth.

The first of the three European election debates on RTÉ will take place tonight, at the very late hour of 10.35pm on the Upfront programme hosted by Katie Hannon.

Focusing on the MNW constituency, the debate will divert from the usual format of the programme; there will be no audience, for example.


The European elections present a particular headache for TV debates. All three constituencies have more than 20 candidates, with the MNW having the most at 27. It would not be possible to host a meaningful debate featuring all candidates, so the national broadcaster has reduced the number to eight.

The candidates set to feature in tonight’s debate are: Peter Casey (Ind); Barry Cowen (Fianna Fáil); Luke Ming Flanagan (Ind); Saoirse McHugh (Ind); Chris MacManus (Sinn Féin); Pauline O’Reilly (Green Party); Peadar Tóibín (Aontú); and Maria Walsh (Fine Gael).

Strict criteria to select candidates have been laid down, with a particular emphasis on past electoral performance. The maximum number of seats is eight. Priority is given to people who are elected TDs, Senators, MEPs, or councillors, or if they achieved more than 5 per cent of the vote in the constituency. If they stand for a party, the party has to have either: one European seat; two seats in Dáil Éireann; five local election seats; or a 5 per cent vote share.

On that basis, Saoirse McHugh and Peter Casey have been selected on the basis of their performances in the last European election. There is no place, however, for Ciarán Mulooly from Independent Ireland, even though he could have argued the newly formed party has three sitting TDs.

Only one candidate is allowed per party in this first debate, which means that Lisa Chambers and Niall Blaney (FF); Nina Carberry (FG) and Michelle Gildernew (SF) all lose out.

RTÉ has said that to allow as much time as possible for candidates to make their points, there will be no opening or closing statements.

The next RTÉ debate, on May 30th, will focus on Ireland South. The final debate will feature candidates in the Dublin constituency on June 4th, just three days in advance of polling day.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times