Anne Rabbitte, a European election candidate in Midlands-North-West, has branded herself “Fianna Fail’s Best Kept Secret”, claiming she has been repeatedly excluded from television debates by her party.
Rabbitte, a TD for Galway East, said the former agriculture minister Brendan Smith had been put forward by the party in three televised debates since the election campaign began, while she was being starved of vital TV airtime to connect with voters.
Brendan [Smith] has had more than his fair share at this stage. He was on the Claire Byrne show live from Brussels and The Week in Politics on RTE, and The Tonight Show on Virgin television in recent days.
Deputy Rabbitte went on to say:
Giving Brendan the [RTE television] Prime Time debate would make it 4-0 in television debates in this campaign. I am just looking for my fair share of airtime. You would wonder why people want to keep me a secret. I am an experienced debater across a lot of issues, and I have extensive knowledge of what is required for the Midlands-North-West.
One party source said Smith had been informed he was appearing on Prime Time on May 21, three days before polling day, and had pencilled the date into his diary. However, Lisa Chambers, the party’s Director of Elections for Europe, said no final decision had been made.
While Rabbitte said she was trailing Smith 3-0 in televised debates since the campaign began, Chambers said Rabbitte had made several appearances in the weeks before the campaign and the candidates were running neck and neck for television appearances.
The media frames the election and the twists and turns of the campaign plays a big part in voters decision making. The final weeks closer to polling day are crucial for media appearances on primetime tv.
Fianna Fail secured almost 19% of the vote in Midlands-North-West in 2014 but the party’s candidates, deputy Thomas Byrne and then MEP Pat “the Cope” Gallagher, divided the vote almost evenly between them and failed to win a seat.
Party strategists are anxious to avoid a repeat of this and have divided the constituency geographically. Rabbitte has exclusive canvassing rights in Galway, Mayo, Sligo, and Roscommon, while Smith has Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth. They are “sharing” Kildare, Meath, Longford and Westmeath.
Supporters of Rabbitte also reported that some of her posters had been “mysteriously” moved, under the cover of darkness, from out-of-town positions into towns where local Tidy Towns committees had requested a poster-free zone be observed, incurring the wrath of Tidy Towns volunteers, while a large number of posters for Smith had been seen in Co Sligo. Smith declined to comment.