Noonan and presenter Seán O’Rourke clash on RTÉ radio show

Minister for Finance in angry exchanges with radio presenter over reports on RTÉ

Tensions between the Government and RTÉ could delay a plan to facilitate the collection of €25 million a year lost through television licence fee evasion, according to Government sources.

The tensions first came to the surface last month when former communications minister Pat Rabbitte launched a blistering attack in the Dail on RTÉ for its coverage of the water protests and accused the station of acting as a “recruiting sergeant for the hard left.”

They were further in evidence in exchanges on radio on Wednesday between Minister for Finance Michael Noonan and RTÉ presenter Sean O’Rourke.

The Cabinet agreed last week to the drafting of legislation which would allow An Post, which collects the licence fee, to have access to the records of cable television providers like UPC and Sky.

After the Cabinet meeting Minister for Communications Alex White said the legislation would help tackle licence fee evasion, which is estimated to exceed 15 per cent of households with television sets.

However, a Government source said last night this legislation was dependent on RTÉ finding further cost savings in response to an efficiency review carried out by NewERA which was published last week.

Heated exchanges

That report and another one by Indecon into the advertising market sparked heated exchanges on radio yesterday between

Mr Noonan

and Mr O’Rourke. Mr Noonan accused RTÉ of failing to disclose the two reports on its future which were commissioned in 2013 by the Department of Communications and completed last year.

RTÉ responded by pointing out the reports, which were not its to publish, had in fact been published last week by Mr White.

Mr Noonan made the claim during an angry exchange with the presenter.

Responding to suggestions by Mr O'Rourke that he had been less than forthcoming with information about the controversy surrounding the sale of Siteserv by IBRC, Mr Noonan said: "Ah now, you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel with that one when you are talking like that. Get off the stage.

“RTÉ isn’t great at disclosure. You’re sitting on reports for 12 months which you haven’t published yet about the future of RTÉ.”

RTÉ later said the reports were commissioned by the Government and their publication was a matter for the Government, not RTÉ.

The Department of Finance said it was not making any further comment on the matter.

In a statement on the publication of the NewERA report last week, Mr White said it had demonstrated that RTÉ had adjusted to a more difficult advertising environment by reducing its operating costs and improving its efficiency to the point where its costs are now in the middle range of comparable European public-service broadcasters.

Assets

“I will be engaging with RTÉ to ensure that these efforts are progressed and that the broadcaster continues with the review of its assets, including the Montrose site,” he said.

A spokesman for RTÉ said it welcomed the publication of the reports.

“RTÉ co-operated fully with the reports and will be responding directly to the department in due course,” he added.