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Catherine Martin’s colleagues should praise her honesty, not criticise her for going on TV

Minister for Media summed up the hypocrisy when she asked: ‘What was the alternative? To conceal the facts?’

For as long as audiences find ventriloquists entertaining, our politicians will never be out of work. Their talent for speaking not only out one side of their mouths but out both sides simultaneously truly is a wonder to behold. And, by golly, did we behold it on Tuesday night when a marathon Oireachtas committee interrogation of Minister for Media Catherine Martin produced a virtuoso performance of political doublespeak.

The State’s public-service broadcaster is swirling crazily in the rapids of unprecedented scandals, at risk of capsizing and being swept away. The Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media is rightly concerned and demanding “full transparency” from RTÉ.

But when the Minister appeared before them, the committee members accused her of being too transparent altogether. The 3½-hour encounter in committee room two boiled down to one question for Martin: What on earth possessed you to go on the telly and tell everyone the truth?

Martin was summoned by the committee after she refrained on Prime Time from expressing confidence in RTÉ’s chairwoman, Siún Ní Raghallaigh. This was followed within hours by the latter’s resignation.


It has since transpired that the former chairwoman had repeatedly and incorrectly assured the Minister during meetings on Monday and Wednesday last week that she and the RTÉ board had played no role in rubber-stamping goodbye deals worth hundreds of thousands of euro to the broadcaster’s former director of strategy, Rory Coveney, and financial director Richard Collins.

Thus, on Monday evening, Martin had unwittingly misinformed journalists at a press conference that the board was uninvolved in the controversial agreements, the details of which remain under the seal of legal confidentiality clauses.

It was not the Minister alone who had been misled but every citizen of the State, who are the owners of RTÉ through the Minister’s sole shareholding.

The right thing to do was to correct the public record. Doing so would make it obvious that Martin had been misinformed.

Politicians have been rushing to media microphones advocating the people’s entitlement to know how much the pay-off packages cost. The committee – to its credit – had discovered the previous week that Rory Coveney, the brains behind the Toy Show the Musical flop, received a farewell handshake which is reckoned to be about €200,000, despite his departure from Montrose last summer having been presented as a resignation. By Tuesday night, though, some committee members seemed to have decided that the less juicy matters of procedures and accountability were best left to a discreet silence.

“You were very forthcoming with the answer when Miriam O’Callaghan put it to you about the role of the board. In other words, it didn’t have to be dragged out of you,” remarked Christopher O’Sullivan, a normally impressive first-time TD. “Do you regret being so open and honest about it live on air?” Then he added, as if general absolution is a given for political subterfuge. “But, sure, look, all politicians are accused of being experts at evading questions.”

“What was the hurry about going on Prime Time? You didn’t need to be there,” said Thomas Gould, after Martin stated she had made a commitment two days earlier to appear on the programme.

“You could have backed out of Prime Time ... This is politics,” said Senator Shane Cassells.

“A little bit of misinformation” was how fellow senator Timmy Dooley characterised Ní Raghallaigh’s persistent denials that she or RTÉ’s board had been involved in agreeing secret walking-away money.

The barminess of the situation would have fitted right into a Callan’s Kicks sketch. Here were politicians baying for full disclosure from RTÉ and decrying its “drip-feed” of information amid a welter of scandals distinguished by secrecy and cover-up while, at the same time, chastising the Minister for her public candour.

We are living through a dangerous time of propaganda, of accurate information being arbitrarily dismissed as misinformation to suit biased narratives, and of lies being peddled as truths

If RTÉ had been truthful about Ryan Tubridy’s payments in the first place and if the organisation had operated with openness and frankness, the series of unfortunate events that has unfolded in the past eight months would not have happened.

“I believe a Minister must be truthful,” Martin countered with a riposte as shocking to the body politic as an electric volt. Maybe “it’s a problem”, she posited, that politicians are accustomed to evading questions.

The doublespeak did not stop with the selective dispensability of transparency. That the departed chairwoman had not given her Minister accurate and relevant information about three different matters on “numerous” occasions, according to Martin’s version of events, seemed not to bother the questioners, with the exception of Senator Micheál Carrigy.

One of the constant refrains emanating from Leinster House since June has been concern that RTÉ’s cosy inner circle and its corporate recklessness rebound on the majority of its employees. Oireachtas members have praised staff for their dogged professionalism in the unrelenting storm of scandals.

But on Tuesday night these sympathetic politicians were berating the Minister out the other side of their mouths for not abruptly cancelling her scheduled television appearance. Had she done so, after learning on her way to the studio that the press was about to report that Ní Raghallaigh had misinformed her, she would have left the Prime Time team in the lurch, frantically trying to fill its main slot as the programme was about to go on air.

We are living through a dangerous time of propaganda, of accurate information being arbitrarily dismissed as misinformation to suit biased narratives, and of lies being peddled as truths. The damage this disregard for honesty can inflict is visible in the flames that have been licking buildings around the country that were targeted, in various instances, because some anti-immigrant agitators falsely claimed they were earmarked to house asylum seekers. There is a tinderbox in our midst that grows bigger and more explosive the more facts are relegated. In this climate, Martin’s Leinster House colleagues should be lauding her for her openness, not using it as a stick with which to beat her.

She summed up the hypocrisy succinctly when she asked the committee: “What was the alternative? For me to conceal the facts?”

The answering silence rumbled as ominously as an approaching superstorm.