Fianna Fail's Averil Power raised the matter of the RTE payout in the Senate last week. Here is what she said:
Order of Business
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Senator Averil Power: I ask the leader to arrange for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House to discuss the recent revelations that RTE has paid financial compensation to individuals associated with the Iona Institute in response to complaints made about Rory O'Neill's interview on the Saturday Night Show.
It is incumbent on the minister to appear in the House and advise members of how much was paid to the Iona Institute on foot of the complaint; whether other remedies such as a right to a reply were offered to the organisation and whether these more appropriate remedies were refused by it. Did RTE give serious consideration to arguing the defence of honest opinion in any threatened defamation action?
I also wish to give the minister the opportunity to outline to the House whether he believes RTE acted appropriately, given its responsibility as a public service broadcaster, to ensure balanced debate on issues of public importance. RTE has a responsibility to ensure all voices are heard, not just those with the deepest pockets. The revelations in the media in recent days about this financial payment set a dangerous precedent ahead of the referendum on marriage equality that has been promised by the Government. To allow one side of the debate to dictate the terms – it is clear to me that the motivation...
An Cathaoirleach: Is the senator seeking a debate in the House on the matter?
Senator Averil Power: I am asking the leader to invite the minister to come to the House to discuss this serious issue. The motivation of the Iona Institute in bringing the case is clear. It is afraid of the referendum and the fact that at the Constitutional Convention, in which people heard both sides of the debate over the course of two days, 80 per cent of those involved voted in favour of equality. They voted to put behind the prejudices and discrimination of the past and to ensure all Irish citizens would be treated equally.
This is what the Iona Institute is afraid of because it cannot win that debate. It cannot win a fair and open debate, but it has money and influence which it is trying to exercise in this case. RTE has a responsibility to ensure no organisation can dictate the terms just because it is influential or has powerful backers. Consequently, I call on the leader to invite the minister to come to the House to discuss this serious issue and the steps he will take to ensure such a dangerous precedent is not followed in the future.
To be fair to RTE, in the past it has run excellent debates such as the Late Late Show debate which included a panel interview in which both sides were heard. Moreover, at its conclusion, the audience voted overwhelmingly in favour of equality. While I hope this was just a once-off event, members must be clear this is the case and that as the country heads into a referendum, one side will not be able to silence its critics.