On Wednesday 5 November last, during a discussion on the RTE current affairs programme Late Debate, Labour Senator John Whelan stated that Bord Gais had made their pitch to establish Irish Water under false pretences.
RTE decided to censor the comments of Senator Whelan by removing the relevant comments. I believe this was a mistake.
The presenter of the programme, Cormac O’hEadhra, made it crystal clear that RTE was disassociating itself from the comments of Senator Whelan and that, I believe, was more than sufficient to protect the station from legal action.
I believe that by deciding to censor the relevant section RTE was killing a major story that was of crucial importance to the people of Ireland.
Senator Whelan had divulged new, extremely important information and any news agency worth its salt would ensure that that information was broadcast so that people would be properly informed. The importance of the story should have overridden any fear of legal action.
I have managed to obtain a transcript of the relevant section censored by RTE. I have made some small changes for ease of reading and omitted non-relevant dialogue.
Labour Senator John Whelan: It would be the act of supreme political cowardice of me to come here tonight and try and wash my hands of Irish Water and say it’s nothing to do with me as the minister who set it up has done, I think that’s appalling.
Cormac O’hEadhra (Presenter): Did you vote against the Irish Water?
Senator Whelan: No, no, I’m going to say….interrupted.
O’hEadhra: So you voted for it?
strong>Senator Whelan: I’m in favour of water charges and I’m in favour of a water company that provides clean, safe water.
O’hEadhra: Let me clarify this, did you vote for the bill or not?
Senator Whelan: I did but…interrupted.
O’hEadhra: So all of the things you outlined, you voted for?
Senator Whelan: No, no, that’s not true. The thing is, we were misled.
O’hEadhra: By whom?
Senator Whelan: I believe that Bord Gais sold the Government a pup when it said that it had the capacity, the resources, the personnel and the skill set. I argued for it to be awarded to Bord na Mona and that’s on the record.
O’hEadhra: Wait now, you say, you as a parliamentarian, when you voted on the Bill, you were misled?
Senator Whelan: Absolutely, by Bord Gais who tendered for the franchise.
O’hEadhra: And all of your colleagues were misled?
Senator Whelan: I believe we were sold a pup and that’s why…interrupted.
O’hEadhra: Are you saying then that the Government was voting on the Irish Water bill on a false premise?
Senator Whelan: I believe the contract should have been awarded, the record will show, to Bord na Mona. I believe that Bord Gais, and this is why the Government has gone in, Alan Kelly has gone in and stripped it back, the board has to be reconfigured, reconstituted and…interrupted.
O’hEadhra: Wait now, this is very serious John. What you’re saying this evening, surely, does that not render the validity of the Bill, the Act all null and void?
Senator Whelan: No, what I’m saying is this. Bord Gais through the process of New Era and the line minister at the time made a pitch to establish Irish Water and I believe they did so under false pretences and they haven’t delivered.
O’hEadhra: Can I just return to the somewhat dramatic vista that John Whelan has presented us with about the Irish Water Bill saying that Irish parliamentarians were voting on a false premise.
Dearbhaill McDonald (Legal Editor at Irish Independent): Yes, that they were misled. I think sometimes politicians forget that when they’re not in the Seanad or Dail that they don’t have privilege.
If I were a member of that tendering team or a senior member of Bord Gais I might be calling my libel lawyer tonight with a view to responding to the allegation that Bord Gais misled them. I think that is a very, very serious charge from a senior member of government to suggest that Bord Gais misled them.
O’hEadhra: Unless you have evidence to back it up.
Senator Whelan: The evidence is that the thing is a shambles, it doesn’t work.
O’hEadhra: But that’s not good enough, you’re saying they misled.
Senator Whelan: Don’t put words in my mouth, what I’m saying is, they made a tendering pitch saying that they could deliver and they didn’t.
O’hEadhra: Hold on a second. You made a very, very serious allegation.
Senator Whelan: And I stand over it.
O’hEadhra: I am asking, if you do, this programme requires evidence to substantiate that allegation, otherwise you have to withdraw it.
Senator Whelan: No I won’t. Is the evidence not clear to you all around you? Irish Water is not functioning, it’s a shambles, it’s not fit for purpose and that’s why we have to go back in and put things right.
O’hEadhra: John, I’m saying to you that as a programme, we disassociate ourselves from your comments unless you have evidence. You need to present the evidence to substantiate your allegation.
Senator Whelan: I’m going to say to you again that I argued at the time that Bord Na Mona would have been a better fit to establish a water utility.
O’hEadhra: You’re the one making allegations.
Senator Whelan: And I stand over them.
O’hEadhra: Ok, well they’re your allegations, they’re not ours. Obviously we can’t stand over whatever you say, without evidence we can’t even judge it.
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