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Seán O'Rourke: Ministers did not threaten Budget phone-in walkout

The RTÉ presenter has moved to clarify matters this morning.

RTÉ BROADCASTER SEÁN O’Rourke has moved to clarify the circumstances surrounding the controversy over Wednesday’s traditional post-Budget phone-in on the Today programme.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One this morning, O’Rourke insisted there was no threat of a walkout by ministers Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin following a report in The Times (Irish edition) yesterday which claimed there had been.

Ellen Coyne wrote that she had inadvertently witnessed one of Noonan’s advisors telling a programme producer that neither minister would appear on the programme unless questions from listeners were made available beforehand.

RTÉ insisted this was factually inaccurate but said it was “standard practice” to give post-Budget queries from members of the public to ministerial advisers prior to the programme going live in order to allow Noonan and Howlin to give more detailed answers.

14/10/2015. RTE 1 - Budget interview. Pictured (Lt Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Speaking this morning O’Rourke explained:

Some of those questions can be a bit technical and neither we, as programme makers nor, I imagine, the ministers would want to end up with them saying repeatedly: ‘Oh Jane or John, I ‘d need to check into the details of that scheme and get back to you.’

He went onto say that a team of officials from the Department of Finance are on hand to provide “expert technical knowledge” on callers’ entitlements or obligations.

As people phone-in to the programme their details are given to advisors who make notes for the ministers, O’Rourke said, before insisting he can ask the ministers whatever he wants.

He continued: “The bottom line in all of this is we decide who goes on air and that’s the way it’s worked for many years. Irrespective of which party or party has been in government, that’s the system.

By the way, one other thing, there was no threat of a ministerial walk out.

The Times editor Richard Oakley wasn’t impressed:

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The Department of Finance has declined to comment on the controversy, referring all queries to RTÉ.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Micheal McGrath said yesterday that it was “beyond belief” that advisers had insisted on getting word for word detail of the questions in advance.

He said he “naively” thought the phone-in was “spontaneous” and said he would be prepared to take calls from the public without any advance notice of the questions if he was finance minister.

It’s understood that the current arrangement with RTÉ has been in place for many years with advisers available to provide technical detail to ministers as far as when Bertie Ahern was finance minister and Gay Byrne presented the Today programme in the early 1990s.

Read: RTÉ says it’s ‘standard practice’ to give ministers questions before Budget phone-in

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Hugh O'Connell

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