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'Mission to Prey' -- the baseless accusation that set off a bomb

LAST May RTE broadcast a 'Primetime Investigates' programme entitled 'Mission to Prey'. It alleged that Fr Kevin Reynolds had committed statutory rape by fathering a child with an underage Kenyan girl called Veneranda while she was working as a maid in a house he frequented in Africa 30 years ago.

Denying the claims, he pleaded with the makers of 'A Mission To Prey' not to broadcast the accusation and even offered to take a paternity test.

More than 500,000 people watched the programme which showed reporter Aoife Kavanagh confronting the priest after a First Communion Mass to falsely accuse him of sexually abusing a teenage girl in Kenya in 1982 and fathering a child by the woman before abandoning them both. An estimated 338,000 people also listened to the baseless allegation being repeated the following day on 'Morning Ireland'.

He denied all allegations but agreed to step down from his ministry in Ahascragh, Co Galway, while the allegations against him were investigated.

He undertook the paternity test, which came back negative.

Fr Reynolds -- who worked in Kenya for 33 years -- went to the High Court and accepted an out-of-court settlement for an undisclosed sum.

RTE apologised to Fr Reynolds and accepted the allegations were baseless, without any foundation and untrue.

An internal investigation was launched in RTE and managing director of the news and current affairs division, Ed Mulhall, and editor of current affairs, Ken O'Shea, stepped aside while it was under way.

Yesterday Mr Mulhall announced his retirement while Mr O'Shea resigned from his role and has now been reassigned. Executive producer Brian Pairceir and reporter Aoife Kavanagh are currently not involved in any on-air programming.

The internal investigation is ongoing and its recommendations are expected to be made public.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) also launched an inquiry, ordered by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, which considered whether programme segments dealing with Fr Reynolds breached the Broadcasting Act.

Pending the outcome of the investigation, RTE could face a fine of up to €250,000 on top of the libel payment to Fr Reynolds.

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That report has been completed and the state broadcaster is expected to receive it this week. They then have 14 days to decide whether they will accept the recommendation.

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