Senior officials from the State broadcaster made the claim during the latest meeting of the Oireachtas communications committee yesterday.
Speaking to the cross-party body, director general, Noel Curran, deputy director general, Kevin Bakhurst, and RTÉ’s director of legal affairs, Eamonn Kennedy, accepted the decision to pay out €85,000 to five people over the ‘Pantigate’ scandal caused consternation among some members of the public.
But despite criticism of the move — repeated at yesterday’s meeting when Sinn Féin TD Michael Colreavy, said RTÉ “rolled over” — the officials insisted they made the right decision.
“There are a range of cases RTÉ has to deal with. In some instances you can work in the line to defend them. But in some instances to continue to defend something in the way in which it operates down in the Four Courts would be foolhardy,” said Mr Kennedy.
Under questioning from committee chair and Fine Gael TD John O’ Mahony, Mr Kennedy said the allegedly injured parties initially sought an apology from the broadcaster to resolve the matter.
However, the legal expert and deputy general, Mr Bakhurst, said this was rejected immediately as the text of the apology being sought criticised Rory O’ Neill — a guest who made the claims against three named individuals and the Iona Institute — and said RTÉ completely disagrees with what was said.
“That is why we did not settle. We were not prepared to say we totally disagreed with what was said; that was not acceptable,” Mr Bakhurst confirmed.
Mr Curran, sparked surprise by suggesting there have been “some positives” from the pay-out, arguing the issue has caused “substantial debate surrounding homophobia and same-sex marriage issues”.
However, he appeared to receive more backing from the committee after saying RTÉ would be in favour of changes to the existing 2009 Defamation Act which could allow for an “honest opinion” defence if similar cases arise in the future.
Addressing the issues raised, Fine Gael TD Noel Harrington suggested the current defamation system is “a danger to freedom of expression”.
However, while noting RTÉ officials’ apparent support for a legal approach more in line with the US, he said that while they “have the first amendment, they also have the right to bare arms”.