Gallagher in fresh call for inquiry into 'Frontline'

Mon, Mar 12, 2012, 00:00

UNSUCCESSFUL PRESIDENTIAL candidate Seán Gallagher has called for an independent inquiry into the final televised presidential election debate last year on RTÉ’s Frontlineprogramme after an audience member claimed he had been given a “hostile” question prepared by the programme’s researchers to put to Mr Gallagher.

In a statement yesterday, Mr Gallagher said he had instructed his legal team to examine the “disturbing revelations”.

The Frontline, hosted by broadcaster Pat Kenny, has already been investigated by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland after a tweet put to Mr Gallagher during the programme on October 24th last year was found to be bogus.

The authority, in its ruling last week, criticised RTÉ’s actions, but said there was no evidence the State broadcaster had “deliberately . . . constructed the programme in a manner that lacked objectivity or impartiality”.

Yesterday, Pat McGuirk (43) from Newbliss, Co Monaghan, who was in the audience when the live programme aired, claimed he had wanted to ask a question about presidential pay, but after a conversation with the Frontlineteam, he was given the following to read out: “I’m sick and tired of hearing from Seán Gallagher about jobs. He created 100 jobs in the boom and most of them are gone. I think he’s too cute for his own good.”

He said he could not bring himself to ask the question and softened it when he put it to Mr Gallagher on air.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr McGuirk said he was shocked by the hostile nature of the question. “I felt it was as if they wanted me to go in gun down Seán Gallagher, to go in and slit his throat. It was horrendous what was on that paper, it was horrendous,” he said.

Mr Gallagher described Mr McGuirk’s “revelations” as “deeply disturbing” and “gravely alarming”.

In a statement read by his solicitor, Pamela Cassidy, outside the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland building in Dublin yesterday, he said they raised “the most fundamental questions about the trustworthiness and impartiality of our national broadcaster”.

RTÉ was required by law to be “independent, impartial, neutral and fair” and had “failed to reach this standard” in the Frontlineprogramme, he said.

He claimed the station had boasted the programme could be a “game changer”.

“It now seems that RTÉ production staff were working towards setting the agenda, rather than facilitating a debate between the audience and the candidates,” he said.

RTÉ could not now disregard the calls for a full and proper public inquiry relating to the production and airing of the Frontlineprogramme, he added.

“All records relating to the programme must be disclosed in a public arena, and every member of the production team must make him or herself available for questioning in the appropriate, independent, forum,” he said.

“RTÉ has a case to answer.”

Mr Gallagher said he would be communicating directly with Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte today.

He had also instructed his legal team to examine the “disturbing revelations”.

There were many unanswered questions about the programme, he said, including who made the decision not to inform Pat Kenny the bogus tweet had been called into question and whether RTÉ had “set the agenda” for the debate.

Donal Geoghegan, former campaign manager for Mr Gallagher, said yesterday it was important the matter was pursued further.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1 in a personal capacity, he said it would seem reasonable that there would be some form of inquiry to pursue what happened on the show.

Speaking to The Irish Timesyesterday, solicitor Shane Kennedy, acting for Mr McGuirk, said his client did not intend to make any further comment at this time.