RTÉ is 'recruiting sergeant' for Sinn Féin, says Rabbitte
FORMER communications minister Pat Rabbitte has described RTÉ as a "recruiting sergeant" for the far left and Sinn Féin, following its coverage of the Irish Water controversy.
In an extraordinary attack, the Labour Party TD last night accused the national broadcaster of trying to "strangle Irish Water at birth" by producing "lopsided coverage" of the introduction of water charges.
Mr Rabbitte claimed in the Dáil that RTÉ relies on a source within the public utility for information leaks which prove damaging for Irish Water.
He highlighted a report on the 'This Week' programme last week, which detailed an absence of minuted meetings between the then Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Bord Gáis chairperson Rose Hynes in 2012.
"If RTÉ were to broadcast similar exposés every time a State company chairperson had an unminuted meeting with a minister - myself included - over the last 30 years, it would fill out the schedule until the end of the year," Mr Rabbitte said.
He claimed RTÉ was failing to fulfil its public service obligations.
The Dublin South-West TD accused the station of failing to highlight the challenges facing the country's water system.
"RTÉ's coverage may have entertained but no sensible taxpayer or citizen could argue that it has informed or educated on the water issue," he said.
"RTÉ has acted as a recruiting sergeant for those who have taken control of and are manipulating the water protests. There must be people in RTÉ who know that Ireland alone in the EU doesn't have a water charge."
The broadcaster issued a statement last night saying it "absolutely refutes the claims of imbalanced and biased coverage". And Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald described Mr Rabbitte's comments as "bizarre".
Earlier, at the Oireachtas Communications Committee, RTÉ chairperson Moya Doherty said political bias would not be tolerated by either the station's editorial team or the law.
Fine Gael TD for Limerick Patrick O'Donovan said licence payers have switched to commercial and local stations because of a lack of regional balance on RTÉ.
Mr O'Donovan claimed the station would choose to cover "pigs flying up O'Connell Street" over a cultural event in his home city.
But RTÉ's Deputy Director General Kevin Bakhurst insisted the station's editorial team is keenly aware of the need to adequately cover events outside Dublin.
Separately, Mr Bakhurst said the national broadcaster is operating in a "highly competitive environment" which involves competitors trying to "poach" his presenters by offering "more money".