Opposition critical of Cowen portraits reaction


New laws are needed to protect broadcasters from interference by the Government, it was claimed today.

Labour criticised RTÉ for ‘bowing to pressure’ in its decision to apologise for its TV news report on nude paintings of the Taoiseach which were sneaked onto the walls of two top Dublin galleries.

A Government official complained to the broadcaster about the issue and gardaí later stepped in to question a 35-year-old teacher who admitted he painted the controversial artwork.

The paintings were displayed briefly on the walls of the National Gallery and the Royal Hibernian Academy gallery before they were removed.

One showed a naked Mr Cowen seated on a toilet and holding a toilet roll while the other displayed the Taoiseach holding his underpants.

Labour TD Liz McManus today attempted to raise the issue in the Dáil, where the Government was represented by Tánaiste Mary Coughlan. "We had a situation where the national broadcaster had to grovel...” she said before Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue ruled her out of order.

She continued: “You are not going to talk me down. I have a legitimate question that is in the public interest. The public interest will not be served by a national broadcaster bowing to political pressure.”

Refusing to permit the issue under the Dáil’s Order of Business, Mr O’Donoghue said: “I’m moving on. I’m moving on.”

But Ms McManus, who is her party’s communications spokeswoman, added: “We live in a democracy where political satire is part and parcel of our democracy.” She asked the Tánaiste: “Will the Broadcasting Bill protect broadcasters so that the public interest will be served?”

But Mr O’Donoghue told Ms McManus: “You cannot circumvent the rules of the House in this fashion. You know that.” Ms Coughlan did not respond to the Labour TD’s questions.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny later described the reaction by the Government and the Garda as an attempt to restrict freedom of expression. The TD, who also tried to raise the issue in the Dáil today, told a news conference that the nude artwork represented political satire.

“I think if the name Picasso was at the bottom of it instead of Casby people would probably have a very different reaction,” he said. “This is political satire and the reaction of Government in my view was absolutely over the top.”