RTÉ insisted on strict conditions for Shane Ross interview about Mary Lou McDonald book

Failure to publish interview questioned in Oireachtas, with Taoiseach stating ‘greater transparency’ needed from broadcaster

RTÉ told Shane Ross and his publishers that it would insist on strict conditions for an interview about his book, Mary Lou McDonald: A Republican Riddle.

The State broadcaster stipulated that Mr Ross could not mention the Sinn Féin leader’s house and that the word “grooming” should not be used about her ascent to the party’s leadership. In addition, it said there should be no mention of a specific member of her family.

The former minister’s publishers undertook to supply relevant parts of the book, before it had been published, to Sinn Féin to enable the party to have a right of reply to any points raised by Mr Ross in the interview.

The interview was later dropped, leading Taoiseach Micheál Martin to question the decision in the Dáil on Tuesday and to say that RTÉ’s decision “demands greater transparency and explanation”.


A tape of the interview was not supplied to Sinn Féin in advance of the intended publication date. However, in a series of communications in advance of the recording there were several exchanges between Mr Ross and RTÉ about what could and could not be discussed.

RTÉ repeatedly told Mr Ross that the interview would have to be reviewed by its lawyers, that Sinn Féin would be afforded a right to respond to any points he made and that sections of the book would have to be made available to facilitate the party’s responses.

Mr Ross’s publishers agreed to all the conditions laid down by the station – which is currently defending a High Court claim for defamation against Ms McDonald – including supplying sections of the book which might be requested.

Some days after it was recorded, RTÉ informed Mr Ross that the station did not intend to broadcast the interview, citing “editorial guidelines”.

According to Mr Ross, staff from the station told him it was “a great interview and a great book” but senior RTÉ sources told The Irish Times that the segment was “a bit boring”.

A political row has blown up over the issue, with Government TDs accusing RTÉ of censoring Mr Ross, an independent minister in the last government whose book about the Sinn Féin leader was launched last week.

RTÉ has said that it made the decision not to broadcast the interview on editorial grounds, while Sinn Féin has largely kept its head down.

Unusually, Sinn Féin TDs have not made themselves available for press interviews in Leinster House this week.

RTÉ is to be invited to the Oireachtas media committee to explain how it makes editorial decisions, including in relation to the recent dropping of the interview with Mr Ross.

After exchanges between Fine Gael members, who wanted to hear from RTÉ on the issue, and Sinn Fein members, who opposed the move, Fianna Fáil Senator Malcom Byrne suggested a compromise which members have accepted. RTÉ, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and Virgin Media are to be invited to the committee for a discussion on the European Media Freedom Act.

The committee says it will “fully respect editorial independence of the media” and wants “to explore how RTÉ makes its decisions on particular issues”.

Those issues will include the abandoned interview Mr Ross, the treatment of issues relating to trans people, coverage of climate issues and what Government TDs say is “the imbalance on current affairs programmes” where there are often a number of opposition politicians and one government representative.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times