RTÉ will not ‘shut down’ gay marriage debate

Broadcaster defends €85k payout over ‘homophobia’ claims

RTÉ has insisted it will not “shut down” debate on marriage equality and will give a platform to both sides of the argument ahead of a referendum on the issue planned for next year.

The broadcaster defended its decision to pay €85,000 to six people over accusations of homophobia, insisting it would have been “reckless” to let the case go before the courts.

Head of television Glen Killane said the station took “the most prudent form of action” by paying out to six people over comments made on the Saturday Night Show.

“We were faced with a problem post the broadcast,” said Mr Killane. “It is not something we would have wished happen but we had to take a decision. We were very unlikely to win the case if it went to court.”

Every avenue was explored before making the financial settlement, he said, but offers of a right of reply or clarification on the programme were rejected by the six people involved.

Mr Killane made the final decision on the settlement following consultation with senior editorial staff and director general Noel Curran, as well as legal advice from RTÉ’s internal legal team and senior counsel with “significant experience in the field”.

If the case went before the courts, the potential payouts would have been “an absolute multiple of what we paid out, which was €85,000”, he said.

A number of TDs want more information on how RTÉ reached its decision.

“It’s important that we know, and RTÉ need to be clear as to the nature of the legal advice, who gave them the legal advice and what did it say,” said Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer.

He urged Taoiseach Enda Kenny to make RTÉ accountable to the Dáil after a number of parliamentary questions by him and others were rejected because they do not fall within the rules of the Oireachtas.

The Cork South Central TD, along with Labour’s John Lyons and Independent TD Catherine Murphy, requested a topical issue Dáil debate on the matter. This has been rejected in the past two days but they hope the Ceann Comhairle will accept their request today.

A number of senators have also called for a debate on the issue. Fianna Fáil’s Jim Walsh asked the Seanad yesterday if “we can deal with the dangerous, vicious elements in the gay ideological movement”.

The settlement by RTÉ has prompted concerns that the national broadcaster will stifle debate on marriage and other equality issues likely to take centre stage in the year ahead.

Mr Killane reassured the public this will not happen: “We have categorically not shut down debate and we will not shut down debate. It is our role, and we are not backing away from it, to ensure both sides are represented.”

The gay rights activists, Rory O’Neill, who made the comments at the centre of the settlement, said he has received support from pop icon Madonna following a rousing speech he made on the issue of homophobia, which has been viewed almost 250,000 times online.

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