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Wednesday 21 March 2018

Rabbitte urged to act on Savage conflict of interest

Tom Savage and Ms Terry
Tom Savage and Ms Terry Prone.
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

LABOUR senator John Whelan has called on Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte to act immediately following the revelation that RTE chairman Tom Savage's wife, Terry Prone, advised Fr Kevin Reynolds after he was defamed by the state broadcaster.

Mr Whelan wrote to Mr Rabbitte saying he was 'horrified' by what he called a "glaring and irrefutable conflict of interest" arising from Mr Savages's Communications Clinic working directly with the defamed priest.

Meanwhile, a Sunday Independent Quantum Research telephone poll showed 62 per cent of people think Mr Savage should step down from his role as RTE chairman in the light of the news that Ms Prone advised Fr Reynolds.

The married couple continuously deny speaking to each other about the defamation case -- which is estimated to have cost the taxpayer €1m -- despite their media relations company working with the missionaries and priests involved.

Last week, Fr Reynolds told the Irish Independent that he contacted Ms Prone following the Mission to Prey programme, hoping she could help him draw up a statement.

Fr Reynolds said: "I got her number. I phoned her and asked her whether she would help me. She agreed and kindly helped me to put a statement together -- a brief statement -- over a few days.

"As it turned out, that statement was never used or never published.

"I was grateful to Terry Prone for that help but we had no contact at any level since then."

The Communications Clinic also gave media training to Irish Missionary Union (IMU), the umbrella for the orders involved in the Mission to Prey -- including Fr Reynolds's Mill Hill Missionaries -- prior to broadcast.

IMU executive secretary Fr Eamon Aylward told the Sunday Independent he struck up a "personal" relationship with Mrs Prone following the training sessions.

However, both adamantly deny they ever discussed Fr Reynolds's defamation case or his offer of a paternity test since the RTE programme aired.

Ms Prone said: "I have no clue at all about the Fr Reynolds thing. I never acted for the IMU on anything to do with the Fr Reynolds thing and that's all there is to it."

When the Sunday Independent asked Mrs Prone was she aware of Fr Reynolds's offer of a paternity test she said: "No, no, no -- not at all. But even if I had, I would never have discussed it with Tom."

This week, Mr Whelan repeated claims he previously made under privilege during the Oireachtas Communications Committees that there was a 'glaring conflict' arising from Mr Savage's role as the RTE chair and his directorship of the Communications Clinic.

In his letter to Mr Rabbitte, he said: "The Oireachtas Committee was asked to believe that the Communications Clinic had merely advised the Irish Missionaries Union in relation to the fallout from the programme.

"The case is seriously and significantly different as Terry Prone and the Communications Clinic advised the primary victim and plaintiff of this programme, Fr Reynolds.

"This is at odds with not only information in the public domain but the evidence offered to us at recent hearings of the Joint Oireachtas Communications Committee."

He added: "Tom Savage is an active and hands-on director of the Communications Clinic I believe that this is completely at odds with his role and responsibilities as the head of RTE.

"I urge you to act, minister, and to hold him to account on this glaring and irrefutable conflict of interest.

"Not to do so, I believe, would be seriously damaging to your own office, the Oireachtas and the credibility of RTE in terms of its impartiality and independence," he added.

Sunday Independent

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