Government orders inquiry into RTÉ libel of Reynolds

 

The Government has ordered an independent inquiry into the circumstances of RTÉ’s defamation of Fr Kevin Reynolds, who is to receive a significant sum in aggravated and compensatory damages from the broadcaster.

RTÉ last week agreed to pay the sum under a settlement of Fr Reynolds’s High Court action for defamation arising from the Prime Time Investigates programme, Mission to Prey.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte said the case was considered at today’s Cabinet meeting.

“It was decided by Cabinet that there should be an independent inquiry to determine the true facts and circumstances which led to the Prime Time programme on Fr Reynolds being broadcast on RTÉ in May of this year,” Mr Rabbitte said in a statement.

The Minister noted the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) was the independent regulator responsible for the oversight of compliance in relation to broadcast content. It has a compliance committee which monitors and enforces compliance by broadcasters with various aspects of the relevant legislation relating to fairness, impartiality and enforcement of standards.

Mr Rabbitte said he today requested the authority’s committee use its powers under Section 53 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 and to determine whether RTÉ had met its statutory responsibilities around objectivity, impartiality and fairness.

He asked the committee to report and make any recommendations in respect of its findings to the authority. He said the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s compliance committee, which monitors and enforces compliance by broadcasters, will examine the RTÉ programme and report within two months.

RTÉ said tonight the next series of Prime Time Investigates has been “deferred”.

While the terms of last week’s settlement are confidential, it is believed Fr Reynolds, parish priest of St Cuan’s, Ahascragh, Co Galway, will receive more than €1 million, including costs.

Fianna Fáil communications spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív said the confidentiality agreement in the case should not prevent RTÉ from revealing details of the settlement made to Fr Reynolds.

"When I called for details of this settlement to be released I was motivated by a desire for the licence payers who are paying the bill for this debacle to understand the true cost," he said. "This requirement could be met by RTÉ coming forward and publishing the total figure for all costs associated with settling libel cases over the course of the last year, to include compensation, legal costs and any other appropriate headings."

The Cabinet's decision now supersedes RTÉ’s internal inquiry into how a programme, which wrongly claimed that Fr Reynolds had raped a minor and fathered a child by her, came to be broadcast.

In an interview this morning, Fr Reynolds said he was “not out for revenge or for any heads rolling” in RTÉ as a result of the programme.

However, he added: “I do think that people in authority, people at the heart of decision making in RTÉ, they would have to face the consequences and they are doing that now.”

In his only broadcast interview to date, Fr Reynolds told Shannonside FM’s Joe Finnegan Programme he would leave the issues of the consequences for RTÉ to his solicitor Robert Dore.

He maintained he had a Christian duty to forgive those involved in the programme who defamed him.

“I have no difficulty in saying openly and honestly that I forgive whoever inflicted such distress on me. That’s what we have been taught to do.”

“If I don’t forgive, if I hold all that in, if I harbour resentment and begrudgery, if I harbour feelings of ill-will and revenge, I’m only damaging myself. I’d be less Christian and less a human being.”

Fr Reynolds said he could not have survived without the support of his family and parishioners along with the Bishop of Elphin Dr Christopher Jones.

Dr Jones has been criticised by the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) for removing Fr Reynolds from his position before anything was proven against him.

However, Fr Reynolds said the bishop had been “hugely supportive” and had kept pointing him in the right direction.

He told the programme that some of his family were so distressed that they could not “light a fire in the morning”.