Row in Seanad over RTÉ ‘compensation’ to Iona Institute

A row over how much licence fee money RTÉ paid in “financial compensation” to people associated with a Catholic thinktank erupted in the Seanad.

Fianna Fáil senator Averil Power demanded Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte come to the upper house to reveal the amount the State broadcaster gave to figures connected to the Iona Institute after an appearance on a chat show by performer Rory O’Neill, who also has the drag queen persona Panti Bliss.

Ms Power said the minister needed to explain to senators “recent revelations that RTÉ paid financial compensation to individuals associated to the Iona Institute in response to complaints about Rory O’Neill’s interview on the Saturday Night Show”.

Mr O’Neill’s appearance was later censored from the RTÉ player, though the performer insists he said nothing offensive in a discussion regarding homophobia.

Ms Power asked if RTÉ had considered other approaches to the controversy rather than a payout.

“Were other remedies offered to the organisation, such as a right to reply, and were those more appropriate remedies, in my view, refused by that organisation? Did RTÉ give any serious consideration to arguing the honest opinion defence in any threatened defamation action?

“The minister should outline to the house if he believes RTÉ acted appropriately, given its responsibility as a public service broadcaster to ensure balanced debate on issues of public importance.

“RTÉ has a responsibility to ensure that all voices are heard, not just those with the deepest pockets.

“I think that the revelations in the media over the last few days about this financial payment sets a dangerous precedent ahead of the referendum on marriage equality that has been promised by the Government.”

Fianna Fáil’s Jim Walsh defended the Iona Institute, stating it reflected the views of many people in Ireland.

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