Fianna Fáil Finance spokesperson Michael McGrath has described reports that advisors working for the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure demanded full details in advance of questions that were to be put to them in a post-budget phone in on RTE’s Sean O’Rourke radio show as a farce and indicative of a government intent on controlling public debate.
Deputy McGrath commented, “This morning’s report by Ellen Coyne in The Times Ireland gives a fascinating insight in to the governments spin operation in action. In fact it reads like a script from a comedy. However, the issue of public scrutiny of Ministers and policy choices could not be more serious.
“It is beyond belief that Ministerial advisors would insist on getting the word for word detail of questions in advance and would then type up answers for the Minister to read out live on air. In fact, it is also claimed that it was communicated to RTE that Ministers would withdraw from the programme unless they had details of the questions in advance. If this is true, RTE should have called their bluff, cancelled the phone in show and issued a public statement as to why it had to be cancelled.
“We already know that there is very limited scope to get answers in the Dáil as Ministers plough through pre-prepared answers and run down the clock to avoid providing any new information. Perhaps naively, I always believed that this annual phone in was a genuine, spontaneous engagement between the people and the Ministers in which anything about the Budget could be asked. I have no idea whether this kind of screening of questions went on in the past but I am happy to confirm that, if I were ever given the privilege of being Minister for Finance, I would take post-Budget questions live on air without advance notice of the questions and would simply do my best to answer them.”