RTÉ WOULD be guilty of “an outrageous attack on democracy” if it transpired that the broadcaster tried to stymie an Oireachtas debate about the Fr Kevin Reynolds libel action, a Fianna Fáil Senator said.
Senator Thomas Byrne said no media organisation had a right to determine what should be debated in the Seanad.
At an acrimonious debate on Tuesday evening, Cathaoirleach of the Seanad Paddy Burke tried repeatedly to stop Senators discussing the case, which will be the subject of a libel action on November 15th in the High Court.
He told Senators that a “party to these proceedings has informed us that the matter remains before the courts and, in light of this matter, should not be discussed by any member in either House”.
The Cathaoirleach did not say which party to the libel action contacted him, but Mr Byrne said yesterday it could not have been the priest, and therefore must be RTÉ.
Mr Byrne said it was up to members of the House to choose matters for discussion in the Oireachtas.
Politicians respected the principle of sub judice, but it did not apply in the case where RTÉ had already apologised for wrongly stating that Fr Reynolds raped a minor and fathered her child while he was a missionary in Kenya.
“The facts here are not in dispute and this is a matter of huge public interest because of the costs involved,” he said.
During the Seanad debate fellow Fianna Fáil Senator Darragh O’Brien said Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte must ask RTÉ director general Noel Curran why the programme was broadcast.
Independent Senator Rónán Mullen said senior editors in RTÉ should be brought before the Oireachtas committee on communications to explain why Fr Reynolds was not allowed to take a paternity test before the Prime Time programme was broadcast.
An RTÉ spokesman denied that the broadcaster advised Mr Burke not to allow a debate.
But he said that Mr Burke was happy to be made aware of the long-standing principle of not discussing in the Oireachtas a case that was still before the courts.