New rule on RTÉ board nominees

A protocol issue has paved the way for a joint Oireachtas committee to reconsider its nominations to the RTÉ board.

The transport and communications committee had included, as one of four nominees, Fionnuala Sheehan.

At the time of the nomination in October, she was the chief executive of a registered charity, Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society (MEAS).

She has since stepped down from the body, which is sponsored by the alcohol industry, but the nomination caused controversy.

Independent TD Róisín Shortall had highlighted what she described as a conflict of interest with the nomination to the board and had urged Communications Minister Alex White not to endorse Ms Sheehan.

Ms Shortall said: “We continue to have a serious problem with alcohol in this country. No one who approaches that problem from a public health perspective views MEAS as anything other than a representative of the alcohol industry.

“It is wholly inappropriate that a representative of the alcohol industry should sit on the board of the national broadcaster when the industry has such an interest in future broadcasting policies and practices, and when it has already acted to obstruct public health policy in this regard.”

Ms Sheehan said she had told the committee in advance of the nomination that she was stepping down from MEAS.

Her successor had been appointed, she had stated, while her proposed appointment to the RTÉ board would not take effect until February of this year.

She stepped down at the end of November, after 12 years heading up MEAS, and was replaced by Niamh Gallagher.

Ms Sheehan had also assured the joint committee there would be no question of any continuing involvement with MEAS or the alcohol industry.

However, Mr White has now written to the joint committee, outlining concerns that proper protocol was not followed prior to the committee providing its four proposed nominees to the RTÉ board.

He said that, under section 81 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, and in advance of the Oireachtas committee’s advice to the minister, “the committee should receive from me a statement indicating the relevant experience and expertise of persons appointed by the Government and such other matters as the minister considers relevant”.

“I am concerned that the sequence of steps as set out in section 81 is complied with and I would respectfully request, therefore, that in accordance with section 81(2)(c) you would submit to me a list of four nominees proposed by the committee indicating, in each case, the reasons for the nomination, such as relevant experience and expertise,” Mr White advised the committee chairman, Fine Gael’s John O’Mahony.

A spokeswoman for the department said Mr White, in his letter, was clarifying the appropriate procedure for putting forward the committee’s four proposed nominations to the RTÉ board.

She said it would be a matter for the committee to put forward its proposals for consideration by the minister and that Mr White had “no particular expectations” about who the committee might propose, for nomination by him, as board members.


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