Tonight, seven party leaders will take to the stage in Galway to answer questions in front of 300 voters, a cross section of those who will decide Ireland's future in General Election 2020.

'Claire Byrne Live: Leaders' Debate' will be the first time all the main parties have come together since the 32nd Dáil was dissolved earlier this month.

Two weeks into a winter campaign of chilly days and dark nights, the general election is as much a battle to win hearts and minds on radio and television, as on the doorsteps.

Those running for office on 8 February are not running away from scrutiny.

Whatever you think of Ireland's politicians - whether you support any political party, or none - those running for office on 8 February are not running away from scrutiny.

On Friday, Leo Varadkar was the first to sit down for a live, half-hour interview with Bryan Dobson on RTÉ One. Over the next week, six other party leaders will face similar questions, as they will on RTÉ Radio programmes and other Irish media outlets over the next two weeks.

Beyond the leaders, our audiences hear also from candidates from all parties and none, in constituency profiles and policy discussions across RTÉ programming and online output.  

Not so across the Irish Sea. During last month’s British general election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to take part in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Neil, declined to attend a Channel 4 Climate Debate, dropped out of a BBC Radio 2 interview, took an ITN reporter's phone and then hid in a fridge to avoid an interview on breakfast TV.

Since the election, the British government has boycotted some BBC programmes, accusing them of being in the "Westminster bubble". 

Donald Trump's White House has not held a televised press briefing in nearly a year.

Across the Atlantic, America’s 2020 Presidential Election campaign begins in earnest next week in Iowa. There too, already, the omens are not good. Donald Trump’s White House has not held a televised press briefing in nearly a year.

Until March 2019, the White House briefing was an important moment in the rhythm of the US day. The President’s Press Secretary could be asked about the latest global crisis or the White House view on anything, and everything.

At the Pentagon it’s even worse. The Department of Defense hasn’t held an on-camera briefing since May 2018. If politicians consciously try to avoid media scrutiny, it makes it harder for them to be challenged on their policies and pledges.

We ask questions on your behalf – to hold those who wish to govern us to account.

Whether in Dublin, London or Washington, scrutiny matters. And never more so than during elections. We ask questions on your behalf – to hold those who wish to govern us to account. Debates have been an important part of Irish elections since 1982. And while they are a more recent addition to UK elections - hard to believe the first British TV debate was only in 2010 - JFK and Richard Nixon were the first US presidential candidates to face each other in 1960.

Today, because of new technology and social media, politicians can bypass journalists and talk directly to the voters. But it misses that layer of accountability that is an essential ingredient of our democracy. If politicians can mislead the public and then avoid scrutiny, how are we meant to get a true representation of who we could be electing? 

The former Conservative and later Ulster Unionist MP Enoch Powell once said politicians moaning about the media was like sailors complaining about the sea. The dance between the two may not always be pretty, but it is an essential part of our democracy.

And as seven party leaders take to the stage at NUI Galway this evening, it's worth reflecting that, unlike in the UK or the US right now, in Ireland, our election is better for it.

Claire Byrne Live: Leaders’ Debate, 9.35pm, RTÉ ONE