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Pat Rabbitte rules out any fresh inquiry into RTE Frontline controversy unless new evidence

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Pat Rabbitte has ruled out any fresh inquiry into the RTE tweet controversy unless new evidence comes to light.

The minister also poured cold water on the chances of a meeting between himself and unsuccessful presidential candidate Sean Gallagher over the fall-out.

The Co Louth businessman has contacted the minister directly demanding a public inquiry.

An allegation by a member of the studio audience that his question to the candidate during The Frontline televised presidential debate was changed raised disturbing questions about the broadcaster's trustworthiness and impartiality, Mr Gallagher has claimed.

But Mr Rabbitte signalled his reluctance for another investigation.

"There has been an inquiry by the statutory authority," he said.

"As I understand it, there is now in the public domain, as a result of the Sunday Independent's work, an allegation of audience manipulation. But to be honest, I haven't had any evidence submitted to me yet and I don't know anything about the reliability or credibility of the person making the charges, and I will have to look at all that before I can come to any decision.

"Until then the situation is that the statutory authority has carried out an investigation and has found that the treatment of the tweet was unfair to Mr Gallagher but there was no bias on the part of the programme makers or programme presenter."

He added: "That situation stands until, and if, evidence to the contrary is furnished to me."

On suggestions of talks between Mr Gallagher and himself, he said he did not want to be disrespectful to the former Dragons Den star but he was not sure there was any reason for a meeting.

"I think a wrong was done to Mr Gallagher. The handling of the tweet was unfair to him and I think most reasonable people would acknowledge that," he said.

"But as regards holding out an expectation that a meeting between me and Mr Gallagher will somehow assuage that wrong, I'm not so sure that I can see how that's possible now."

Mr Gallagher argued that an inquiry is necessary to ensure the democratic process of the election had not been compromised.

"Trust in our national broadcaster is at the core of our democracy," he wrote in his letter to the minister.

"That trust has now been brought into serious question."

The entrepreneur insisted he is not challenging the outcome of the election last October, which saw Michael Higgins become Ireland's ninth president.

RTE has denied allegations made by audience member Pat McGuirk that the production team changed the question he had for Mr Gallagher to suit its agenda.

Mr McGuirk, from Co Monaghan, told the Sunday Independent newspaper that he first emailed the show to ask a question relating to the salary of the president but that it was changed moments before the live debate to focus instead on the job creation record of Mr Gallagher, who he supported.

The broadcaster has maintained that the programme's researchers merely reworded Mr McGuirk's question based on conversations they had had with him and that he later sent an email stating he was happy with the show and the staff involved.

While the Broadcasting Authority upheld a complaint from Mr Gallagher that The Frontline acted unfairly when show host Pat Kenny read a tweet from an unofficial account without checking its source, it found no grounds to launch an inquiry.

A spokesman said there was no evidence that RTE, Mr Kenny or the production team had deliberately constructed the programme in a manner that lacked objectivity or impartiality.

Mr Gallagher is now arguing that Mr McGuirk's allegations should form sufficient grounds for a formal investigation.

"The evidence now emerging should have been disclosed to the Broadcasting Authority. And it should have been made available to me," he said.

The entrepreneur said it was a matter of urgency that a comprehensive investigation is carried out.