Skip to main content

To: Ms. Dee Forbes, Director General, RTÉ and Mr. Pat Kiely, Managing Director, Virgin Media Television (Ireland)

Screen a standalone national TV #GE2020 Leaders' Debate on the single issue of the Climate Crisis

IInvite the leaders of all political parties to take part in a dedicated TV debate focused exclusively on the single issue of the climate crisis (separately from any and all other general election programming, including any general leaders debate). Questions should come from a studio audience composed of a sample of citizens biased in favour of those under 35, and including young people not yet 18, to reflect the disproportionate significance of the climate crisis for future generations.

Why is this important?

The climate crisis is entirely different from all other issues in this general election campaign. It is global in scope, raising genuine existential risk for the stability of all human civilisation within the lifetime of young people already of voting age. It transcends and dwarfs the other issues: there can be no enduring solution to housing, healthcare, education, economic development, peace or justice unless there is a successful response to the climate crisis. For Ireland to now play even its minimal fair share in such a global response would require fundamental and disruptive changes in current political priorities. It is utterly impossible to do justice to this issue without a full debate devoted exclusively to it, and driven by an audience selected explicitly to represent future generations who are entirely reliant on the decisions being made now.

"We need to focus every inch of our being on climate change. Because if we fail to do so, then all of our achievements and progress will be for nothing. And all that will remain of our political leaders’ legacy will be the greatest failure of human history. And they will be remembered as the greatest villains of all time because they have chosen not to listen and not to act." - Greta Thunberg, speech to the European Economic and Social Committee, February 2019.

[Note: This is now a joint/merged petition based on two similar but independent initiatives. The first was created by Nikki Ffrench Davis, the second by Barry McMullin.]

[Image credit: sculpture by Isaac Cordal, "Follow the leaders," Berlin, Germany, April 2011.]


Reasons for signing

  • The climate emergency should be a priority
  • This could be the 2nd last election before 2030, and we need to hear real ambition from all the parties to have strong net zero targets.
  • The greatest issue of our time should be debated.


2020-02-04 16:16:13 +0000

And for anyone who missed the actual debate last night, here is the RTÉ player link:

2020-02-04 16:14:26 +0000

As they have elected not to comment explicitly, we cannot know for sure whether or to what extent RTÉ was actually influenced by our petition; but regardless of that, RTÉ deserves genuine credit for this intervention. We will all have views on how the actual content of the programme might have been better or more effective; but that should not detract from the importance of such a show airing at all.

Of course, the road ahead is long, and pressure and momentum will have to be sustained; but thank you all again for your commitment to doing precisely that!

2020-02-04 16:14:19 +0000

So, the Claire Byrne Live "Climate Special" aired last night on RTÉ 1. While this was obviously not exactly the "Leaders" climate debate that was petitioned for, nonetheless I think we should appreciate the sheer symbolic importance of the national broadcaster devoting effectively an entire prime time current affairs slot to the climate crisis, in the last few days before a general election. Even people who only watched a little (or not at all) may be influenced by the perception that this really is an "important" issue. It was only a one-off as yet, but still a significant development in my view, and a major improvement on climate coverage during the 2016 general election...

2020-02-03 15:57:44 +0000

Possibly a little moot at this late stage in the election campaign, but nonetheless I am happy to welcome a formal statement from Sinn Féin that they have "no objection" to the holding of a standalone national TV Leaders' Debate on the Climate Crisis. Full details here:

While this comes a little late, it is still obviously appreciated: there are other parties (large and small) who have still been unable to manage any response at all.

2020-02-03 13:41:31 +0000

Also: in this brave new world of bottom-up mass digital media, it may be worth tuning in to the online streaming of the #GE2020 "Climate Hustings", live from the Mansion House Dublin, tonight (Tues, 3rd Feb, 2020) from 7pm:

Hosted by Eco-Eye's Anja Murray!

Cheers - Barry.

2020-02-03 13:15:40 +0000

Apparently the "last few audience seats" were advertised via twitter for the Claire Byrne Live "climate special" tonight:

DM via twitter:

Likely gone by now - but if interested, may still be worth dropping them a line, or sending in a question. Other show contact info here:

2020-02-02 12:46:35 +0000

However: in better news, it has been announced that the final Claire Byrne Live programme before the election, on Moday night 3rd Feb (9.30pm?) will be devoted to a discussion of climate action. Won't necessarily feature party leaders but presumably most (?) parties will be represented. Announcement/teaser video here:

2020-02-02 10:39:09 +0000

While there has been some useful discussion of climate on the "all-leaders" debates on both RTÉ and Virgin Media TV, it has been relatively brief, narrow, and generally relegated toward the end of each programme. This has been very disappointing.

2020-02-02 10:37:41 +0000

Some final (?) updates, as we enter the last week of the #GE2020 campaign...

2020-01-24 14:13:38 +0000

"RTÉ rejects calls for leaders’ TV debate on climate change": strong, updated, coverage of the petition from Kevin O'Sullivan in the Irish Times (online):

In the mainstream press, Kevin has certainly done a great job of presenting the story.

That said ... while he correctly notes my acknowledgement of climate and energy coverage on RTÉ "The Week in Politics" last Wed, he rather missed my ultimate conclusion:

'Overall, possibly actually "worse than nothing"! Fringe screening actually *re-inforces* wider societal perception that climate is a "fringe issue" - not *really* important (compared to housing, health, pensions etc. etc.). The very opposite to "emergency" framing... ALL media needs to do much much better; but definitely a clear #ClimateFail for @rte so far in this campaign coverage...'

2020-01-24 09:55:00 +0000

Worth noting that RTÉ "The Week in Politics" on Wed last (22nd Jan) did feature a reasonably extended segment (30 mins) on "environment", primarily focussed on climate and energy. Currently available on the (incredibly unreliable/frustrating) RTÉ player here:

Features Richard Bruton (FG), Jack Chambers (FF), Bríd Smith (PBP), Eamon Ryan (GP), Peadar Tóibín (Aontú). Suffers from the intrinsic difficulties of this "set piece debate" format, and hopelessly inadequate time to probe any specific issue in detail. And broadcast well outside prime time viewing hours. Nonetheless, in fairness to RTÉ, at least they did make some effort here. The show will be re-broadcast on Sunday at 12pm (RTE1 TV), so do please promote both the player version and the repeat showing when it comes around.

2020-01-23 15:34:25 +0000

We still await a Virgin Media TV response, of course - so do please keep circulating and promoting the petition anyway!

2020-01-23 15:34:04 +0000

Well, the RTÉ response has arrived: sadly, it is an unequivocal "NO":

"At the calling of the General Election, the RTÉ Election Steering Group, chaired by the Director General approved the hosting of two [omnibus] debates during the campaign: a debate involving several party leaders to take place on Claire Byrne Live and a debate between the leaders of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil on Prime Time. These are the only two party leader debates that RTÉ will provide to viewers during the campaign..."

There is more elaboration, but, in my own opinion, no substantive engagement with the case made in the petition text (nor acknowledgement of the scale of support the petition received). Full letter text here:

If you are so minded, do feel free to send a personal reaction directly to:

2020-01-22 12:29:39 +0000

Petition signatures have broken through 3,500 - way beyond my expectations! (Sadly, as yet, no further public endorsements from parties other than @socdems. If you have political contacts - do please keep working them!)

2020-01-22 11:39:08 +0000

There will be an omnibus debate between just Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar on Virgin One TV tonight, 9.30pm-10.45. I've suggested two simple questions to ask:

+ Do you support holding a separate *standalone* leaders' TV debate on the #ClimateCrisis as over 3,500 citizens have now requested? Simple "yes" or "no" answers will suffice!
+ @UNEP says the Paris goals now require *global* GHG cuts of 7.6% per year: as Taoiseach, would your government cut Irish GHGs at more or less than that rate, and why? (The "how" is also important, but can only be meaningfully addressed after the rate has been determined - hopefully based on what is physically necessary, and globally just, not what is politically palatable...)

See twitter versions in this thread:

Please consider retweeting and/or posting similar on any social media, during today, but especially during the programme tonight!

2020-01-21 13:55:10 +0000

Excellent news: we have official confirmation on behalf of the Social Democrats that they support the holding of a standalone TV leaders debate on the climate crisis and that they would participate in it. See:

2020-01-21 10:36:24 +0000

Link to Virgin Media TV letter:

2020-01-21 10:35:45 +0000

Link to RTÉ letter:

2020-01-21 09:57:08 +0000

NB: If any signatories/supports have direct contacts in any of the political parties, please raise it through those channels also: the more noise, the more attention, the more chance of actual engagement! We still need at least *one* party leader to declare if this is to get off the ground!

2020-01-21 09:50:25 +0000

Newsflash: The petition, with a snapshot of the signatures to date, has now been formally emailed to both RTÉ and Virgin Media TV. It has also been separately send to all political party leaders, asking them to declare whether or not they support such a standalone debate and their willingness to participate.

2020-01-21 09:50:09 +0000

Wow! We shot through 2000 signatures yesterday evening and are now approaching 3000! Well - don't stop!

2020-01-20 15:24:05 +0000

Do please try to keep this as a live petition even as the election news cycle grinds on! Keep up re-publicising on social media, and if speaking with any canvassers, please show them the petition and ask for their party position. If they don't know ask them to find out and contact you back! If you get any responses, please post on social media (tag with #GE2020 #LeadersClimateDebate and @autofac).

Thanks again - Barry.

2020-01-20 15:23:06 +0000

We have just expanded the scope to address the petition not just to RTÉ but also to Virgin Media TV: if RTÉ can't or won't rise to the challenge, Virgin just might!!

2020-01-20 15:22:13 +0000

Many thanks to all of you for signing - the response has been amazing!

+ It turned out there were two petitions launched independently, by Barry McMullin and Nicki Ffrench Davis. With Nicki's gracious co-operation and support from the team, the two have now been merged.

+ One significant difference between the original petitions: Barry's had a *hard* age restriction on the studio audience. In the merged version, this is changed to just urging a "bias in favour of" younger participants.

Kind regards - 

Barry McMullin, Nicki Ffrench Davis

2020-01-17 23:28:46 +0000

1,000 signatures reached

2020-01-17 16:12:22 +0000

500 signatures reached

2020-01-17 09:43:08 +0000

100 signatures reached

2020-01-17 08:57:30 +0000

50 signatures reached

2020-01-17 08:34:09 +0000

25 signatures reached

2020-01-17 08:27:22 +0000

10 signatures reached