RTÉ took ‘internal editorial decision’ to remove exchange with Senator about Irish Water

Labour Senator John Whelan stands over remarks he said meant utility was ‘not fit for purpose’

Senator John Whelan: said decision on editing podcast was “puzzling”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Senator John Whelan: said decision on editing podcast was “puzzling”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

RTÉ has said it took an “internal editorial decision” to edit a podcast of its night-time current affairs radio programme The Late Debate to remove an exchange between its presenter and a Labour Senator about Irish Water.

Senator John Whelan, who was a guest on the show on Wednesday, November 5th, remarked Bord Gáis had “sold the Government a pup” when it said it had the capacity, resources, personnel and skill set to establish Irish Water.

He said he had argued for the contract to be awarded to Bord na Móna and that this fact was on the record. Mr Whelan said he was “in favour of water charges and I’m in favour of a water company that provides clean, safe water”.

Asked by the presenter Cormac Ó hEadhra whether he had voted against the Bill establishing Irish Water, Mr Whelan agreed he had not.

He went on to doubt the capability of Bord Gáis to deliver on foot of the tender and made allegations against the company in this regard.

Null and void

Later in the exchange, Ó hEadhra returned to this, saying it was “very serious” and asked whether what the Senator had said rendered “the validity of the Bill, the Act all null and void?”

Mr Whelan replied: “No, what I’m saying is this: Bord Gáis through the process of New Era and the line minister at the time made a pitch to establish Irish Water . . . and they haven’t delivered.”

Another guest, journalist Dearbhail McDonald, who is legal editor at the Irish Independent, commented during the exchange she believed “sometimes politicians forget that when they’re not in the Seanad or Dáil that they don’t have privilege”.

When the podcast of the programme was published, commentators on social media pointed out that it omitted the entire exchange.

Removed

A spokeswoman for RTÉ said: “The comment on The Late Debate was removed from playback following an internal editorial decision. This can happen on occasion with a live programme.”

Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has said he disagrees with Mr Whelan’s allegations in relation to Bord Gáis.

Mr Whelan, a journalist by profession, told The Irish Times the decision on editing the podcast was “a bit puzzling”.

He questioned whether it might have a “chilling effect” on debate and whether it was “a form of censorship”.

“I said what I said in the knowledge of the full import of what I was saying and I did not need the privilege of the House to do so.”

The Senator said he had used a common euphemism when he said the Government had been “sold a pup” and that it did not imply he knew something else that he had failed to disclose.

He said he stood over those remarks, by which he meant that Irish Water was “clearly not fit for purpose”. “There was no libel and no slander. It was fair comment on a matter in the public interest.”