The chief executive of Wexford County Council, Tom Enright, has been barred from the premises of South East Radio following an alleged “unprovoked verbal attack” on a prominent presenter.
The barring of the council’s top executive from the Wexford premises comes two years after a report from the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) found Mr Enright had put “unwarranted” pressure on the station by raising advertising spend during a dispute over its coverage of the council.
A few months later there was another controversy when it was suggested “criteria” be agreed with the station about its coverage of the council as part of a “service level agreement” between the two organisations. The suggestion was made by the then county secretary, David Minogue.
The latest dispute between the council and the radio station comes after Mr Enright visited the station in November for an interview with Alan Corcoran, presenter of the Morning Mix programme. After the interview Mr Enright raised editorial matters with Mr Corcoran.
In a letter to Mr Enright on November 17th, the managing director of South East Radio, Eamonn Buttle, described what had occurred after the interview as an “unprovoked verbal assault” and said Mr Corcoran had been sent for a medical assessment because of the “trauma” and “significant distress” caused.
For health and safety reasons, Mr Enright was no longer permitted to come to station’s premises, he said. All future interviews would be conducted over the phone.
Six days’ later, Michael Lanigan, of Poe Kiely Hogan Lanigan solicitors, on behalf of Mr Enright, said his client had raised “a number of reasonable questions with Mr Corcoran in relation to recent broadcasts of his show”, that “both parties spoke frankly” and the encounter had not become heated. Mr Enright, he said, was “shocked and dismayed” by the suggestion of an unprovoked verbal attack and rejected the allegation.
Mr Lanigan noted the decision “to bar” his client from the South East studios before being asked for his version of events and said “the suggestion that he represents a risk to your employee’s health and safety is totally denied”. He asked that the decision be withdrawn.
Mr Buttle, in a reply to Mr Lanigan on November 24th, said he would appreciate it if Mr Enright clarified the matters he had raised with Mr Corcoran during their encounter. No response has as yet been received.
Meanwhile, Mr Buttle sent a letter on November 20th to Minister of State Patrick O’Donovan in relation to Mr Enright’s encounter with Mr Corcoran. He said Mr Corcoran had been told that Mr O’Donovan had conveyed his unhappiness to Mr Enright about the editing of an interview broadcast on Morning Mix in October and that he, Mr O’Donovan, would be making a complaint about it. The interview with the Minister of State at the OPW concerned investment in the port at Rosslare.
Mr Buttle said South East Radio had not received any expression of disappointment from Mr O’Donovan, or any complaint from him. “What is troubling is that Mr Enright has informed local councillors about your alleged disappointment and intentions, some of whom have relayed this information to staff of South East Radio.”
As the station was considering bringing the matter to the attention of Sipo, and because Mr Enright has “embroiled you in this controversy”, Mr Buttle asked Mr O’Donovan if he would clarify his involvement.
On December 5th, Mr Buttle wrote directly to Mr Enright noting that neither he nor his solicitor had responded to his letter of November 24th.
He said he was “disappointed that you refused to extend an apology to Alan” for what Mr Corcoran described as “one of the most distressing and vitriolic incidents” he had experienced in his 35-year broadcasting career.
Mr Buttle said Mr Enright had told Mr Corcoran he was aware of pending complaints against South East Radio made to the broadcasting regulator, Coimisiúm na Meán. However Mr Buttle had been in contact with the commission and had been told there were no formal complaints against the station.
He also said Mr Enright had told Mr Corcoran he should have been notified in advance, and given a right of reply afterwards, before interviews had been broadcast with New Ross Standard journalist David Looby, and local TD Verona Murphy, in which they both discussed matters concerning the council. Both were examples “of you putting undue pressure on the station to alter our broadcasting practices”, Mr Buttle said.
Mr Buttle said that, in its report on Mr Enright, Sipo had said “if Mr Enright considers that the coverage of the council was unfair or unbalanced, there were formal routes through which he could pursue the issue”.
No formal complaints had been made by Mr Enright in the two years since the Sipo report, Mr Buttle said. “Your most recent actions can only be interpreted as further attempts to interfere with South East Radio’s editorial freedom.”
He said he was “deeply shocked” that Mr Enright had chosen to “ambush Alan” and reaffirmed that “you remain barred from entering the South East Radio building”.
“I am currently seeking advice on all legal and regulatory remedies which are available to South East Radio,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Mr O’Donovan said a response has now been sent to Mr Buttle. Mr Enright, and the council, said in a statement they are considering, and have taken legal advice on, Mr Buttle’s letter of December 5th. Mr Enright has only ever visited South East Radio on invitation, they said.