herald

Thursday 23 October 2014

Cash-strapped RTE face €1m priest libel bill

RTE chiefs were today reviewing the cash-strapped station's financial situation following the massive libel award to Fr Kevin Reynolds.

A huge payout, believed to be around €1m, is thought to be involved in the confidential deal hammered out by lawyers for both sides outside the High Court yesterday.

Sources close to the case today indicated reports that a figure of €5m was not accurate, although the legal fees for both sides will also add to the financial headache of senior RTE management.

However, the State broadcaster is not expected to seek the dismissal of any staff members involved in the Prime Time Investigates programme, which wrongly claimed that Fr Reynolds made a teenage African girl pregnant while working as a missionary in Kenya and then abandoned her.

Two paternity tests conducted after the controversy emerged proved Fr Reynolds was not the father of her child.

An RTE spokesman emphasised the station was strictly adhering to the confidentiality agreement made in the High Court proceedings.

The spokesman said treating the matter as "a punitive exercise" was not the best route to learn lessons for the future.

"Looking for heads is not necessarily the best way for an organisation to learn the lessons that arise from an issue like this," he said. "What we wish to do is to understand how this mistake was made and to ensure that our processes are sound to protect against such exceptional cases."

Besides reporter Aoife Kavanagh, who is in a relationship with RTE current affairs star Richard Crowley, other editorial staff who may have been involved in the programme Mission To Prey were producer Mark Lappin, who is believed to have since left RTE; executive producer Brian Pairceir; editor of current affairs in charge of Prime Time Ken O'Shea; and managing director of news Ed Mulhall.

It is not clear whether any of the people involved in the programme raised concerns about going ahead with it.

Fr Reynolds (65), who is parish priest of Ahascragh, Co Galway, worked on the missions for several years.

He temporarily stood down from his position after the broadcast and brought legal proceedings against the station after the May broadcast.

Fr Reynolds had written to RTE offering to do a paternity test before the programme was aired to prove his innocence. He has since taken the test, which proved he was not the father of the child.

RTE issued further apologised today in daily newspapers. It said it wished to restate the apology to Fr Kevin Reynolds for the defamation and damage to his character, and for the deep hurt and distress caused to him. "The offence and hurt caused to his family, his Order colleagues and to his parishioners is also acknowledged and deeply regretted."

aokeeffe@herald.ie

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