Fresh calls on RTÉ officials to consider positions

Further calls have been made on RTÉ chairman Tom Savage and director general Noel Curran to resign as a result of the Prime Time Investigates programme which defamed Fr Kevin Reynolds.

Three members of the joint Oireachtas committee on communications urged either or both to consider their positions.

Senator John Whelan urged Mr Savage to resign amid claims that the RTÉ chairman had shafted the station’s head of news, Ed Mulhall in a “pre-emptive and unfair” newspaper interview last year before the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland had issued the findings of its inquiry into the programme.

He accused Mr Savage of engaging in spin-doctoring and washing his hands of a station with “poor morale, low standards, and groupthink” which was spawned by a cult of “clique and cronyism”.

The Labour senator claimed Mr Savage also had a conflict of interest due to his role in PR firm, the Communications Clinic, with his wife, Terry Prone.

Fine Gael TD Tom Barry said Mr Curran was out of his depth and should take responsibility for the controversy by resigning.

He said he was unhappy at how RTÉ had ignored its own legal advice and at its refusal to waive its legal privilege over such advice.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath also called for both men to resign.

In reply, Mr Savage said he repudiated and resented any attack which questioned his integrity and any insinuation he had acted against “the canons of ethical behaviour”.

He claimed his remarks about Mr Mulhall were a direct response to a question on who made the final call to broadcast the programme. Mr Whelan said: “You’re well capable of saying ‘no comment’ when it suits.”

As someone who had been a priest for eight years, Mr Savage said he understood how devastated Fr Reynolds would have felt.

He said the RTÉ board immediately asked for a report on the making of the programme when it was first informed by Mr Curran about the priest’s paternity test in Sept 2011.

Mr Savage said there were 1,800 victims within RTÉ who had suffered collateral damage as the station’s reputation had been “tarnished grievously”.

Mr Curran acknowledged there had been an “inexplicable” delay in accepting the initial offer of a paternity test by Fr Reynolds. The issue as it arose was “not as dramatic” until RTÉ had received the result of the first test.

He explained a secondary test had been sought as Fr Reynolds’s alleged victim did not provide proper identification for the first.

Mr Curran said the results of the initial test would consequently not have been admissible in court.

Although he was not offering an excuse, he said the delay in taking the first test was due to logistical reasons as the woman lived in “a shanty town” in Kenya.

However, he said the Prime Time Investigates team had “absolute confidence” the test would justify their claim against Fr Reynolds.

Mr Curran said it was hard to give absolute guarantees, but he believed such an error could not happen again due to additional editorial safeguards that had been put in place following the documentary.

Asked if RTÉ’s current affairs division had become arrogant and overconfident because of its previous track record, Mr Curran said: “Perhaps.”

RTÉ chief financial officer, Conor Hayes said the station has average legal costs of about €3.5m annually, of which about €1m were related to defamation cases. The committee heard there were 11 libel cases outstanding in relation to Prime Time.


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