Monday 24 July 2017

RTÉ in firing line over Miriam O'Callaghan's 'ambitions for Presidency'

Miriam O’Callaghan
Miriam O’Callaghan
John Downing

John Downing

RTÉ bosses are coming under mounting pressure to clarify their position on intensifying speculation around Miriam O'Callaghan having ambitions to run for the Presidency.

The national broadcaster last night refused to say whether it had discussed the “potential conflict of interest” with the ‘Prime Time’ presenter.

Ms O’Callaghan has repeatedly declined to quash rumours she wants to take over from President Michael D Higgins, including when she was quizzed by a guest on her own Saturday chat show.

Asked by the Irish Independent whether the matter was a concern for RTÉ, a station spokesperson said: “We do not comment on internal conversations with any members of staff. We have solid procedures in place should any potential conflicts of interest occur.”

Ms O’Callaghan continued to remain coy last night, stating: “I have absolutely nothing to say on the subject.”

Ms O’Callaghan’s current stance is very different from the one she took before the 2010 presidential election when she ruled herself out.

Back then RTÉ issued a statement on her behalf, saying: “Miriam O’Callaghan would like to point out that, while she is delighted and honoured that some people are considering her as a potential presidential candidate, she would like to stress that she will NOT be standing for the position, independent or otherwise, in the upcoming election in 2011.”

And RTÉ was criticised in the past for failing to take action on speculation its then economics editor, George Lee, was planning to run for Fine Gael.

After denials from the broadcaster of his candidacy, Mr Lee, who was a household name and often stridently critical of government policies, then ran for Fine Gael in a 2009 by-election.

RTÉ was forced to reject challenges about his credibility as a commentator in the weeks before he abruptly declared his candidacy.

Members of the Oireachtas broadcasting watchdog say RTÉ and Ms O’Callaghan have an obligation to clarify the position – especially after the handling of the last presidential election and the controversy over the final debate involving then frontrunner Sean Gallagher.

Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan said: “I was never going to vote for Sean Gallagher; however, there is no doubt the handling of the presidential debate changed the course of the presidential election. RTÉ should have learned very valuable lessons.

“If Miriam O’Callaghan was going to stand, then the best of luck to her and she would be a very good candidate – but if she is interested I think she has an obligation to tell us.”

Fianna Fáil Senator Paschal Mooney said it was “incumbent” on Ms O’Callaghan to clarify the matter to maintain the “independence and integrity” of the Presidency.

“In the context of the fact that she works for RTÉ, there would obviously be an extra dimension to Miriam O’Callaghan’s perceived candidacy for the Presidency because of her close association with RTÉ and exactly because of what happened on the last occasion,” he said.

Last weekend, a guest on her chat show, former British government spokesman Alastair Campbell, said to Ms O’Callaghan: “You’re going to be the next President.”

“Don’t mind him,” the presenter told the audience.

Ms O’Callaghan refused to answer Mr Campbell.

Irish Independent

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