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Wednesday 29 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C

Ethics watchdog rules against Wexford County Council CEO over funding threat to local radio station

Tom Enright has called the watchdog’s findings ‘flawed and disproportionate’, and is exploring his legal options.

IRELAND’S ETHICS WATCHDOG has found against Wexford County Council’s CEO Tom Enright, who was accused of breaching public office standards by threatening to withdraw funding from a local radio station in 2019 over what he called “inaccurate and damaging commentary”.

Enright has released a statement responding to the watchdog’s findings by calling it “flawed and disproportionate”, and stated that he is exploring his legal options. 

The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) has published a report of its investigation into a complaint made against Tom Enright by Karl Fitzpatrick, who presents the ‘Business Matters’ programme on South East Radio, based in Co Wexford.

After a series of disagreements between Fitzpatrick and Enright over “views expressed on the ‘Morning Mix’ programme of the same station on 5, 6, and 7 March 2019, Enright complained to South East Radio later in August that two interviews on Business Matters on separate dates that month had been edited to remove favourable coverage of Wexford County Council.

Subsequently, on 29 August 2019, Tom Enright emailed the station’s general manager, copied to Eamon Buttle, the managing director of South East Radio, stating that the Council was “reviewing [its] commercial relationship with” the station and complaining that it was facilitating inaccurate and damaging commentary on Council initiatives.

The following day in a reply to Buttle, Enright said that he had been “threatened with legal action, intimidation tactics, censoring of podcasts and biased editing of interviews which should have reflected well on the Council”.

He ended his correspondence with the sentence “It is with regret that we must cease our commercial relationship with you.”

Sipo finding

Today, Sipo found against Enright following their investigation.

Sipo said in its conclusion:  “In his role as Chief Executive, Mr Enright has a right, and indeed an obligation, to defend the reputation of the Council, and has a personal right to defend his own reputation. However, a person in his position must react in a proportionate and level-headed manner if he is to protect the integrity of his position and maintain public trust in the Council.

If Mr Enright considered that the coverage of the Council was unfair or imbalanced, there were formal routes through which he could pursue that issue.
The emails of 29 and 30 August 2019 were not the appropriate recourse and amounted to an over-reaction and inappropriate conflation of issues on Mr Enright’s part. They fell below what is expected of someone in his position, in terms of content, tone, style and language.

Sipo found against Tom Enright on all three of the alleged contraventions before it.

Tom Enright’s response

In a statement sent out in response to Sipo’s report, Tom Enright said that  the Commissions findings were “flawed and disproportionate”, and that he was exploring his legal options.

“The Commission has found that in sending two emails to South East Radio on 29th and 30th August 2019, I failed to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest and breached the Code of Conduct for Local Authority Employees.

I am extremely disappointed with the Commission’s findings which, in my view, are flawed, and disproportionate. Accordingly I am currently exploring all available options including legal options and am consulting with my legal advisers in that regard.

“To be clear, my sole motivation in the engagement with South East Radio was to get fair recognition for the hard work of councillors, Council staff and others in attracting new business and employment to Wexford.”

He also said Sipo’s conclusions had “far reaching implications” for all senior local government officials when dealing with service providers. Enright added that the SIPO report has been forwarded to the Cathaoirleach of Wexford County Council for consideration by the Council in accordance with the relevant legislation.