James Stafford of Century Radio has denied that he ever pushed for RTÉ Radio 2 to be closed down.
Stafford said at the Flood Tribunal today that it was his view that RTÉ Radio 2 should be closed as it was using the RTÉ licence fee to sell below-cost advertising to stifle competition.
Capital Radio in London, which took a stake in Century, also believed it should be closed.
But, he said, it was never a requirement, and it was not included in the 1990 legislation.
James Stafford, the former director of Century Radio, has been accused of lying to the Flood Tribunal. Denying the allegation, Mr Stafford claimed that comments he made during a private interview were misinterpreted.
The tribunal heard that Mr Stafford said that he first heard about the now infamous payment to Ray Burke when he read about it in press reports earlier this year but later said in evidence that he had heard about it back in 1991. At that point, Oliver Barry claimed that he was owed money for the payment he made to Ray Burke. James Stafford said that was the first time he heard about it. However, tribunal lawyers have uncovered documents which reveal that Oliver Barry was refunded the payment after the London based Capital Radio took a stake in the station, and that James Stafford helped him to do this.
Gay Byrne today gave evidence at the Flood Tribunal. He told the court that Oliver Barry arrived at his home in Howth with a cheque for £1m as a downpayment for joining Century Radio. He declined the offer because he didn’t want to be seen as “muggins the frontman” for the new station. He said that he was nervous that the station owners had placed so much emphasis on having him on board and feared that he would be first to be criticised should the station fail.
An official from the Bank of Ireland has told the Flood Tribunal that Century Radio would have been considered by his company to be “a lost cause” but for the promised legislation to cap RTE’s advertising revenue. Century was using the pending legislation to buy time, he said.
RTE’s dealings with Century Radio, and the cap on it’s advertising rates, cost the station approximately £20m, RTE’s chief financial officer Gerry O’Brien claimed today at The Flood Tribunal.
Mr Patrick Taylor, former finance director of the UK’s Capital Radio who invested over £1m in Century Radio, said today that it was suggested to him that former Communications Minister Ray Burke was paid £35,000 by Oliver Barry, Century’s co-founder, in return for placing a cap on RTÉ’s advertising revenue.
The suggestion was made to him by Mr James Stafford, also co-founder of Century, in late 1991.
Mr Taylor also told the Tribunal that he was unaware that Mr John Mulhern, son-in-law of Charles Haughey, was an investor in Century Radio. It was not disclosed in the legal documents drawn up at the time of Capital’s investment in the station, he said.
In other evidence given today, Mr Paddy Corbett (Manager of Bank of Ireland, O’Connell Street) agreed that words recorded in an internal bank memo to the effect that Mr Oliver Barry had used his ‘political clout to get…a level playing field’ – referring to the cap on RTÉ’s advertising – were his, but he had no recollection of saying it.
Mr Séamus O’Neill, former marketing director of Century Radio, said that he had sold advertising prior to the station’s launch on the basis that the signal would reach 60% of the country on it’s first day of broadcasting and that it should not have launched, because at that point, only 45% of the country could receive the station. He had never been shown RTÉ’s transmission document which stated that it would take nine months before this level of coverage could be reached. This led to advertisers cancelling orders and it became difficult to get new business, he added.
After five years, the Flood Tribunal has released its interim report. There were a number of key points concerning Century Radio, the national station which was awarded a licence in 1989 but lasted only two years on air.
Justice Flood has found that a £35,000 payment to then minister for communications Ray Burke by Century Radio owner Oliver Barry on 26th May 1989, was a corrupt payment and was not intended by Barry to be a political donation to Burke or to Fianna Fáil. This followed the award of the new national licence to Century.
It was also found that a ministerial directive obliging RTÉ to provide its facilities to Century, issued by Burke on March 14th, 1989, was issued to advance the private interests of the promoters of Century and not to serve the public interest.
Further, in proposing legislation which would have had the effect of curbing RTÉ’s advertising, altering the format of 2FM, and diverting broadcasting licence fee income from RTÉ to independent broadcasters, Burke was acting in response to demands made of him by the promoters of Century and was not serving the public interest.
The payment of £35,000 to Ray Burke by Oliver Barry ensured that he was available to serve the interests of Century’s promoters, as is evidenced by his willingness to meet with their bankers and to give them assurances that he would take steps, including, if necessary, the introduction of legislation which would be to Century’s financial benefit.