RTÉ denies ministers threatened not to do phone-in show

Report said Noonan and Howlin advisers wanted sight of all questions they might face

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (right) and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin answering listeners’ questions on Today with Seán O’Rourke at RTÉ on Wednesday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan (right) and Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin answering listeners’ questions on Today with Seán O’Rourke at RTÉ on Wednesday. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

 

Sarah Bardon, Political Reporter

RTÉ has said a report that the Minister for Finance and Minister for Public Expenditure would not participate in a radio phone-in about the budget unless they had access to all the questions in advance is incorrect.

Ministers Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin appeared on Today with Seán O’Rourke on Wednesday for the annual post-budget discussion.

However, it was reported on Thursday that an adviser threatened not to let the Ministers take part unless they were informed of all the questions they would face beforehand.

In a statement, RTÉ said: “At no time was a threat delivered that a Minister would not appear on the programme as a result of his press advisers not seeing the questions in advance.

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“In the case of yesterday’s programme, advance access to audience questions on specific individuals’ circumstances post-budget queries was given to ministerial advisers as standard practice.”

RTÉ said the the primary purpose of the post-budget programme was to enable the more detailed, personal and specific queries raised by individuals to be addressed “to the most accurate degree possible, and that requires some research to be done by Government advisers on the individuals’ specific questions.

“This protocol was agreed in advance as has been standard practice for years and there was no debate about access to the questions prior to going on air for that specific programme.”

The Times Ireland Edition reported that an official from the Department of Finance had said the two Ministers would not take part in the phone-in without sight of the questions. It said staff from the State broadcaster objected initially but eventually agreed to the request.

Editor of the Times Ireland Edition Richie Oakley said the paper stood by its report and insisted the story was in the public interest.

He said: “It is disappointing that RTÉ has chosen to shoot the messenger. We have asked RTÉ to reconsider their statement.”

The Department of Finance has declined to comment on the matter.

During the programme, the ministers were contacted by a young homeless woman who had been living in a hotel for six months with her nine-year-old daughter.

They were also asked questions by pensioners frustrated with the €3 increase in their weekly payment.