TDs on their own mission to give RTÉ a grilling

Thu, May 17, 2012, 01:00

DÁIL SKETCH:THE long-awaited meeting of the Committee on Getting our Issues with RTÉ off our Chests ended in a most unsatisfactory manner.

Three hours in a room with the top brass from Montrose was never going to be enough for the politicians.

Apart from themselves, the one topic guaranteed to get them energised is the state of our national broadcaster and how its journalists conduct their business. Predictably, there was a full house in committee room number one when the director general and the chairman of the board of RTÉ pitched up for their early afternoon waterboarding session with a crack team of Oireachtas interrogators.

But most of the time was lost in making speeches at the men from the Broadcasting Authority who were in first.

There was a meeting of the Jobs, Social Protection and Education Committee next door. They couldn’t muster enough bodies to get started, so one of the deputies at the packed RTÉ gig was hauled in to make up the numbers so they could start.

The communications committee convened to examine issues arising out of the Prime Time programme Mission to Prey, which resulted in the libelling of Fr Kevin Reynolds.

It also gave members a chance to ventilate other grievances they have with RTÉ, and there was no shortage of them.

All sides agreed that the documentary represented a cock-up of monumental proportions. But in the opinion of most of the politicians who spoke, the debacle of the Mission to Prey documentary was an indicator of a deeper malaise within the organisation.

If the DG and chairman of the board hoped they could appear before the committee, take their punishment with grovelling contrition and then put the whole unsavoury incident behind them, they were mistaken.

“I do not believe that this matter should be allowed to rest,” declared Éamon Ó Cuív, back in business after his little embarrassment last week.

“I believe there is evidence of a cultural problem within RTÉ.” The politicians who spoke were heavy of heart. They cherish investigative journalism and anything which might undermine it.

And then they got stuck into RTÉ.

As a spectacle, the committee meeting was far more interesting than the proceedings in the Dáil, which began in the afternoon so the Taoiseach and various party representatives could attend the 1916 ceremonies at Arbor Hill yesterday morning.

A misty-eyed Gerry Adams found the ceremony “very moving” and was sure the Taoiseach would agree it was “a reminder of how much we owe the men and women who proclaimed the Irish Republic, in defiance of an empire, 100 years ago”.

The battle never ends. These days Gerry is facing down a European empire as he fights the cause for a No vote in the fiscal treaty referendum.

But he took time off from the struggle, for the day that was in it, to take a dander down “the lanes of history” with Enda, calling on the Government to ensure that the 1916 national monument in Dublin’s Moore Street is fully protected and preserved.

The Taoiseach, with a poignant sniffle into his green flag, said the rising marked “the culmination of centuries of activity in this country”. Moore Street played a central role. “As this small country was one of the first small states of the last century to achieve its independence, and as the 1916 Rising, in its own way, took the first fledgling steps towards economic and political independence and sovereignty, there could be a marvellous opportunity for that to be remembered in a fitting fashion.”

Gerry leapt in with an important point of information. “To clarify: the part of the country I come from is not yet independent.” Enda smiled. “I was conscious of the flicker of your eye when I mentioned that. You were trying for 30 years at it.” It was all we could do not to break into a rousing chorus of A Nation Once Again.

Back at the Committee on Getting Even with RTÉ, they were more concerned with recent history.

Senator Brian Ó Dómhnaill (FF) was concerned with “a stitch up on Seán Gallagher” as a result of the infamous Frontline presidential election tweet.

Deputy Martin Ferris (SF) also referred to coverage of the presidential election, “where one of the candidates was accused of being a murderer, without any evidence”. He didn’t mention Martin McGuinness by name, in order to protect his reputation.

Ferris was also very concerned with secret filming, a subject he returned to on a number of occasions. He was particularly keen to know what happened to footage shot in secret which wasn’t subsequently aired.

We were intrigued.

Mattie McGrath let Tom Savage, the chairman of the RTÉ board, have it with both barrels, demanding he resign his position.

McGrath knew of other cases where RTÉ investigations had “destroyed lives and businesses”, in one instance trying “to make ribbons of a company and a profession”. Labour Senator John Whelan stuck to the Mission to Prey brief. As a newspaperman, he couldn’t believe how a journalist was allowed to deal with a legal complaint.

“It wouldn’t have happened on the Ballymagash Gazette.” Michael Healy-Rae pined for more innocent times, when “Charles Mitchell was a god in rural Ireland”. Mr Mitchell was a newsreader back in the days of black and white.

Tom Savage read a short statement and was duly lambasted by Mattie for trying to use PR “spin” to get himself out of a tight corner.

“If, in some way, the method of my communication conveyed something else to you, Mr McGrath, I apologise,” said the smooth-talking Savage.

But it was a phoney war yesterday. Noel Curran and Tom Savage will be back before the committee on Tuesday, when the members of the committee for Putting Manners on Montrose will give them a proper going over.