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Dáil won't allow Rabbitte to disclose breakdown of RTÉ payout over homophobia controversy

TDs and Senators are trying to raise the Panti Bliss controversy in the Dáil and Seanad.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

AN INDEPENDENT TD has been prevented from asking Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte for details of RTÉ’s controversial payout to members of the Iona Institute and the columnist John Waters after comments by drag queen Panti on the Saturday Night Show.

Catherine Murphy put down a parliamentary question last week seeking details of the amount paid by the national broadcaster to external parties as settlements for alleged defamatory broadcasts in the wake of the recent controversy.

RTÉ paid out an €85,000 settlement to Waters and members of the Iona Institute who had issued legal proceedings in the wake of comments made by Panti, aka Rory O’Neill, in relation to homophobia on the chat show last month.

However, the Dáil’s Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett disallowed the question from Murphy on the basis that Rabbitte has “no official responsibility to Dáil Éireann for this matter” as it is an operational issue for RTÉ.

Rabbitte has already ruled out “interfering” in the controversy and RTÉ’s decision to settle.

Murphy said she would be submitting more questions and said that she did not think it was good enough.

She said that while she accepts there is a line between operational matters and ministerial interference “there is something bigger at stake here”.

“It’s about public discourse and it’s about shutting down public discourse on issues that may well suit one side of an argument,” she told TheJournal.ie. “I think there is a bigger issue at stake here that the Minister does have to take some responsibility for and that is where the line is between operation and the broader good of society.”

The controversy has been raised a number of times in the Oireachtas in recent days, with Senator Averil Power discussing it in the Seanad last week, and David Norris speaking about it yesterday.

Socialist MEP Paul Murphy has also made comments – under privilege – in the European Parliament. Labour deputy John Lyons tried to raise the matter as a Topical Issue, tweeting yesterday:

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Catherine Murphy also questioned Rabbitte on the measures available to the Oireachtas and the government to ensure that RTÉ does not act in contravention of its public service obligations.

In a column for this website last week, Murphy said that RTÉ had a duty to be balanced and challenge opinions that promote inequality.

In his written answer this week, Rabbitte said that the broadcaster is obliged under Broadcasting Act to prepare a public service statement every five years and this is reviewed on an annual basis by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

“The Authority is required to submit to me, as Minister, a report which is to include recommendations in regard to the adequacy of funding of the corporation,” he explained.

He added that the report and recommendation of the BAI as well as his response are laid before TDs and Senators in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Latest: RTÉ’s head of television explains Iona payout decision to staff

Read: Rabbitte won’t ‘interfere’ in RTÉ’s Panti payments

Column: Panti Bliss controversy raises major questions about RTE’s role in public discourse

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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