Savage 'not told' of PR dealings with IMU

Wed, May 30, 2012, 01:00

PUBLIC RELATIONS adviser Terry Prone has said she never told her husband and business partner Tom Savage of their company’s involvement in advising missionaries affected by the RTÉ Mission to Prey programme.

She said Mr Savage, who is RTÉ chairman, knew nothing about the involvement of the Communications Clinic in advising the Irish Missionary Union (IMU) in advance of the screening of the programme last year.

Ms Prone and Mr Savage are directors of the company.

Last week three TDs called on Mr Savage to resign as RTÉ chairman in the continuing fallout from the controversial programme that libelled Fr Kevin Reynolds. Mr Savage has said he didn’t learn of the problems surrounding the broadcast until last September.

Labour Senator John Whelan last night repeated earlier criticisms of Mr Savage’s dual role in public relations and on the RTÉ board.

“This is another glaring example of a conflict of interest,” he said. “Mr Savage says he knew nothing about the broadcast for four months after it went out and here his company was representing some of the parties affected by the programme.

“You can’t represent scores of political, clerical and corporate clients and also serve the best interests of the public at a State broadcaster,” he said.

However, Ms Prone said her company’s involvement with the missionary union ended on the day the programme was broadcast, and it had nothing to do with Fr Reynolds.

“Tom wouldn’t have known anything about it,” she said. It was the practice in the company for directors to deal with their clients on a confidential basis, without sharing information with colleagues.

The IMU said it employed the Communications Clinic to help deal with an expected “backlash” against missionaries after the programme was broadcast.

A strategic plan circulated to members before the programme aired mentions preparations for an RTÉ “exposé”.

Executive secretary Fr Eamon Aylward said his involvement had been with Ms Prone in the run-up to the broadcast of the programme in May 2011.

He said he had had no dealings with Mr Savage and had never met him. The IMU learned of the issues surrounding Fr Reynolds only in late June 2011, he said.

Much of the criticism of Mr Savage has been aired at two meetings of the Oireachtas communications committee, which is due to make recommendations to Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland.

Mr Whelan admitted that there was a wide divergence of views on the committee, of which he is a member. Asked if he planned to take his grievances to Mr Rabbitte, his Labour colleague, he said he didn’t.