How controversy over comments on local radio required Sipo intervention

Businessman Carl Fitzpatrick believed his disagreement with Wexford County manager Tom Enright was on hold until he went to a Wexford Rotary Club meeting in June 2019.

On March 5, 2019, Fitzpatrick and Enright were kicked out on South East Radio’s Morning Mix show after Fitzpatrick made comments about the council’s efforts to provide office space and attract employers to the county.

Enright later alleged that the remarks were detrimental to his and the council’s efforts to attract investment, eventually making it clear to Southeast Radio that the council ad was in question.

The controversy escalated to standards at the Public Office Commission (SIPO), which led to a report 10 days earlier that found Enright had put “undue pressure” on the station by threatening to withdraw the council’s advertisement.

On June 10, 2019, Fitzpatrick, who owns Chevron Group, a training business, and employs 100 people in the county, attended a Rotary meeting at the Riverbank House Hotel. Enrights were also present.

At the time, Fitzpatrick was a month away from taking over as club president, succeeding Thomas Hulsewitt. Sitting opposite Fitzpatrick at the Enright event.

Fitzpatrick told The Irish Times, he could feel “a little bit angry towards me” from Enright. The two men had a brief exchange as the show ended, during which Enright said: “We need to talk.”

When Fitzpatrick came back to his office, he received an email from Enright Waiting. “I would be grateful if you let me know when you are taking over as President of Wexford Rotary,” the email read.

‘Considering resignation’

“I am considering resigning from Rotary because I do not want to be a member of a club whose president is determined to undermine me and some of the positive things I am trying to do for Wexford.”

In the email, which is one of a number published in the Sipo report, Enright said he was surprised that he had not received an apology when the two men met earlier that day, “or perhaps not given your cocky behavior”. .

“I would like to make a full statement when I resign,” Fitzpatrick told him, and would ask to give me the opportunity to do so.

The businessman showed the email to Hulsewit, who got in touch with Enwright three days later and suggested that instead of resigning, Enwright should take a year off from the club and return when Fitzpatrick’s presidency ended.

“I agree that it is inevitable that professional or personal disputes will arise between members from time to time,” Hulsewit said in an email. “However, I am obliged to inform you that all contentious matters and disputes that are not related to Rotary’s business and activities should not be raised within the Club.”

Responding to Hulsewitt, Enright said that the Rotary meeting “was my first meeting with Carl since he created [his comments on South East Radio], I thought he would apologize when I met him. I did not.”

Wexford County Manager Tom Enright was found to be applying “undue pressure” by the standards of the Public Office Commission by threatening to withdraw council advertising on local radio station South East Radio.

He added that Fitzpatrick is “determined not to harm me and the few positive projects I am delivering for Wexford. I have always supported Carl, even when many people have criticized me and I have been criticized for his behavior.” Be warned about

Enright said he wanted to remain as a Rotary member “and will do so if Karl apologizes.”

‘Very shaken’

Fitzpatrick told The Irish Times that given Enright’s powerful position in the county, he was “quite shaken” by the June 14 email, and decided he had to do something. This was the reason why I complained to Sipo.

During his email exchange with Southeast Radio, Enright told the station that Council was going to stop buying advertising space from it because of its coverage, while solicitors working for Council sent Fitzpatrick a letter explaining his Threatened to sue for defamation was made because of alleged intent. To make an official complaint about Enright because of the comments Enright made in the email.

In exchanges, Enright stated that Fitzpatrick was pursuing “personal vendetta” against him and the council (an allegation denied by Fitzpatrick). Fitzpatrick told solicitors working for the council that he had suffered “extreme loss and suffering” as a direct result of Enright’s actions as chief executive of Wexford County Council.

Fitzpatrick, a former president of both the Wexford Chamber of Commerce and the Wexford Rotary Club, has presented the Business Matters program on Southeast Radio on a no-pay basis since 2012.

Following Fitzpatrick’s comments while appearing as a guest on the station’s Morning Mix show, Enright submitted a statement to the station saying something. The statement was broadcast the next day. Again the next day, parts of a reactionary statement from Fitzpatrick were read out.

The dispute between the two men, and between Enright and South East Radio, developed from there, with Enright making several strong complaints about Fitzpatrick and the station to the station. These emails and emails related to Rotary Club led to Fitzpatrick filing his complaint about Enright to Sipo in October 2019.

Fitzpatrick told The Irish Times that he decided to complain about Enright because he believed Enright had “entered into some sort of campaign against me” and that he needed to find a way to stop it. was needed.

In its report published last week, Sipo found that Enright had violated the Local Government Act by sending emails to the radio station on August 29 and 30, 2019, threatening to withdraw the council’s ad if it was unhappy with its coverage. .

‘Flawed and disproportionate’

In the wake of the report, Enright issued a statement saying it believed Sipo’s findings were “false and disproportionate” and that it was exploring all available options, including legal options.

“I was disappointed with Tom Enright’s response. It seems he hasn’t learned anything,” Fitzpatrick said. “I worry that we’re going to see a lot more like this in the future.”

South East Radio is majority owned by brothers Eamon and Norman Buttle. Eamon Butel said at a Sipo public hearing last November that the station’s relationship with the council was “very important to our survival”. Wright did not testify for the hearing.

Buttle met with Enright at a Wexford hotel on March 13, 2019, to discuss the controversy over Fitzpatrick’s on-air comments, after which he thought the matter was closed.

Following the events of June 2019 involving the Rotary Club, Fitzpatrick emailed Enright, saying that because of the “retaliatory” correspondence Enright was distributing about him, he had sought legal advice and was told that the chief executive had failed to comply with the conduct. Code was violated. Local Authority Employees, Public Office Ethics Act, and other statutory provisions.

Enright responded two hours later, vehemently denying that he had distributed retaliatory correspondence about Fitzpatrick. “However, you have defended yourself against hurtful remarks made against me.”

Fitzpatrick submitted a Freedom of Information request to the council and, after gathering various materials, submitted his complaint directly to Sipo in October 2019.

During 2020, while Sipo was investigating Fitzpatrick’s complaint about Enright, the council complained about South East Radio to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

perceived bias

It alleged a variety of matters including bias in broadcasts and podcasts during 2019, and alleged intimidating and intimidating behavior against council officials. However, the compliance committee of BAI decided that the investigation was not required.

Buttle and Enright did not make themselves available for interview at The Irish Times. In his testimony at the Sipo hearing in November, Buttle said that while the council continued to advertise with the station in 2020, the amount of advertising purchased had increased from €63,000 in 2019 to €46,000 the following year, when he believed That it should have gone up in view of the pandemic.

The Sipo report shows that the council engaged with Enright on their complaints about coverage, without acknowledging the validity of complaints made by them about alleged bias or unfairness. In an email to Enright on August 29, 2019, an unnamed radio executive wrote: “Quite frankly I have no idea how or why this storm blew up.”

Sipo decided that Enright had adopted an inappropriate and threatening tone in two emails to South East Radio in August 2019, and “reconciled” its unhappiness issues with the station’s coverage, and the council’s advertising spending.

“As such, Mr Enright abused the council’s position as the station’s primary advertiser, in fact ‘weighing’ the council’s wallet.”

In his statement in response to the report, Enright stated that his sole focus on his association with South East Radio was to gain due recognition for the hard work of council staff and councilors in attracting new business and employment to Wexford.

“I believe that the findings have far-reaching implications for all senior local government officials when there is a need to protect the interests of a public authority by dealing forcefully with service providers,” he said.