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Jody Corcoran: If RTE thinks that this is all over, then it doesn't realise Sean's resolve

SEAN Gallagher is sitting in the living room of his comfortable home overlooking the bay of the picturesque village of Blackrock, Co Louth. Across the way are the Cooley Mountains.

His wife, Trish, home from the gym, is on her laptop in an adjoining room. Gallagher is dressed in jeans and open-neck, blue-striped shirt. He is doing his best to remain Zen-like. It is 6pm on Thursday.

He has read closely the report of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and is pleased -- or relatively pleased -- but not entirely satisfied. He needs to know more, to know what precisely happened in RTE that night, that week, to change the course of the presidential election.

Well, I say to him, you got an apology anyway.

The day before, the director general of RTE, Noel Curran, had finally offered an apology for the broadcast of a bogus tweet and the failure to broadcast a corrective tweet, which, if these events had not occurred, would probably have meant that Sean Gallagher would be President now.

This is the same Noel Curran who steadfastly refused to meet with Gallagher in the weeks and months after the hugely controversial programme; the same head of RTE who, Gallagher says, was "hostile" to him as he sought to establish what had happened.

"I absolutely welcome the apology from Noel Curran on behalf of RTE. It's disappointing that I had to fight for the last number of months through the BAI in order to get that apology," he said.

It is not that often, I suggest, that the DG of RTE apologises to anybody. So you must be pleased about that?

"I welcome the outcome, but am disappointed it has taken this amount of time," he said. "But it doesn't address the issue."

What is the issue?

"I struggle to see how these changes RTE say are going to be implemented can be implemented without first understanding what the problem was within the Frontline team.

"That's why I sought, under the Freedom of Information Act, information on the timing of the tweet; who received it; what was the process by which they decided to put an unverified tweet to me; what was the process by which they made a decision not to put the second tweet into the public domain for viewers at home and, indeed, the audience.

"We still don't know the answer to that. I think there are further questions to be asked. That's why, when my FoI appeal was rejected, I called in the BAI, to get these answers.

"I can't see how RTE can move forward without clearly understanding what went wrong and that's what I am looking for.

"I'm simply saying I don't know and the way to get to that is for RTE to explain exactly. I'm sure that they themselves would want to get to the bottom of it. I'm only asking the questions that they themselves should be asking."

So, I say, it sounds like you are not ready yet to let this matter rest. The BAI has said the matter is not serious enough to warrant further investigation.

"I think the election of the


President of Ireland is a very serious matter. This is about the political process, this is about the democratic process.

"I want to make sure that no other candidate -- whoever steps forward -- will have to go through this and the only way that it will be achieved is to find out what went wrong and make sure it never happens again.

"This is a matter of public concern because it is a national broadcaster and we all want to have faith in a national broadcaster.

"It has a unique role within Irish political and public life, so many people turn to it. As we saw, almost a million people watched that programme."

So are you saying, until you know precisely what went on there that night, that week, that you cannot have faith in RTE?

"I think it's in RTE's interests and in the public's interests that we are all made aware of what exactly happened."

By the way, I ask, has Pat Kenny had any discussion with you since the interview on RTE radio the morning after the debate?

"I haven't heard from Pat Kenny as presenter of the programme."

And how do you feel about that?

"Again, that's a matter for him. I'm disappointed, maybe, that he hasn't and that it's taken four months for me to get an apology from RTE."

There seems to be an impression around that you were asking for this, that you deserved it -- no matter what way RTE handled it and they've obviously been found to have handled it wrongly.

"I don't accept the fact that just because a candidate becomes the frontrunner in an election that they're a target or should be anymore of a target than whoever is number two or number three."

In the BAI report, they make references to the suitability of internal programme-making guidelines. Have you looked into the issue as to audience participation?

"No, it's not an area that I have explored."

Did you have pause for thought at any stage and ask yourself, "Do I really want to take on RTE?"

"Yes, I mean, I had received the first-preference votes of more than half-a-million people and I wanted to get fairness for myself and for them. That was all I wanted.

"But I felt from the very outside, in dealing with RTE, I was up against a brick wall and the institution had gone now to defend itself and was not open to any criticism or any questioning."

It's curious that you describe it as an 'institution' -- why would you do that?

"Well, in many ways it's like the institution of the church. When wrong was done within the church and people became aware of it within the church, instead of embracing and understanding the problem, getting to the root of it and identifying it, owning up to it, the institution turned to defend itself and had to then be brought by outside influences to address the issue and own up to it.

"RTE, as an institution, as a national broadcaster, approached the problem in very similar ways. So it went straight to defend itself and that's how the BAI came in.

"It's taken months for me to get this apology and to get an acceptance by RTE that there were mistakes made.

"What I'm asking now is to go that next step further and say 'what were those mistakes and how did they happen?'

"Because there's no way of making sure they don't happen again unless RTE and the public understand what the problem was and why it happened."

Jody Corcoran

Sunday Independent