FORMER Fine Gael TD George Lee has emerged as a surprise front-runner for the vacant RTE Washington correspondent position.
The one-time politician has expressed a keen interest in securing the job – which is up for grabs following journalist Richard Downes’ decision to return to Ireland.
The national broadcaster has begun “actively” seeking to fill the post and is expected to announce Downes’ successor within the coming weeks.
Lee has been working on Prime Time in recent months after being handed a prominent broadcasting role since he dramatically returned to the station after quitting his Dail seat in February 2010.
The business journalist topped the poll in the Dublin South by-election in June 2009 – but he left Fine Gael after claming he had no real influence in the party.
Now he has emerged as one of a number of figures who are seen as front-runners for the coveted reporting position.
“George definitely wants to get back into the limelight, there's no doubt Washington would do that for him,” said an insider. However the Herald can reveal that Lee is facing competition from highly regarded newsroom figures David Murphy and Robert Shortt.
Shortt did a previous stint as Washington correspondent and impressed RTE bosses with his coverage of the Nicola Furlong murder trial in Tokyo.
One well-placed RTE source last night described him as being in with a “major shot” but said a number of applications have already been submitted.
David Murphy, who serves as RTE's business editor, is also interested in the post.
Montrose bosses have already dismissed suggestions that the Washington bureau could be closed as a cost-saving measure.
Journalist Charlie Bird infamously claimed that he became lonely while serving as the Washington correspondent before he was succeeded by Richard Downes.
“I don't know what madness possessed me to take on this job,” Bird said in a documentary aired in 2010.
But despite Bird's complaint, the position is still one of the most sought-after among RTE's top tier of reporters.
A contracted cameraman and producer will remain at the Washington office during the handover while an RTÉ correspondent will be on standby for any breaking news from the region. The broadcaster came under strong criticism for shutting its London office last year – a move RTE's head of news Kevin Bakhurst described as “not ideal”
It's understood that RTE may perform a U-turn on the decision once its financial standing improves.