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Free Now pulls six-figure RTE sponsorship deal after Tommy Tiernan’s ‘racist’ joke

“As a recent sponsor of The Tommy Tiernan Show on RTÉ, we were disappointed about the comments made at his Vicar Street gig regarding taxi drivers”

Tommy Tiernan© andres Poveda

Niamh HoranIndependent.ie

Free Now, the taxi-hailing platform, has pulled its six-figure sponsorship of The Tommy Tiernan Show on RTÉ following a joke the presenter made about taxi drivers and Dublin Zoo.

The joke, which was made by Tiernan at a comedy gig in Vicar Street in Dublin, prompted RTE presenter Emer O’Neill, to walk out.

Afterwards she said she considered the joke to be “overtly racist”.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent this weekend a representative for the taxi company said:

“As a recent sponsor of The Tommy Tiernan Show on RTÉ, we were disappointed about the comments made at his Vicar Street gig regarding taxi drivers.

“Free Now works in close partnership with taxi drivers throughout the country to provide an important transport service for passengers across Ireland.

“Prejudice of any kind towards taxi drivers is unacceptable. We decided to conclude our sponsorship of the show last week but will continue to work with RTÉ on other projects going forward.”

In 2019 RTE announced it was seeking €120,000 in sponsorship for the prime-time slot. The value of the slot is understood to have risen significantly since given the steady rise in audience figures.

In a statement this weekend, a spokesperson for the state broadcaster said: “RTÉ can confirm that Free Now has decided not to continue its sponsorship of the Tommy Tiernan Show on RTÉ One. We look forward to working with Free Now again in the future.”

After the stand-up gig, O’Neill said her “heart sank” when Tiernan began by telling the audience a joke about Dublin Zoo – claiming: “My daughter told me not to tell this joke”.

The PE teacher and activist shared her experience saying: “He starts the joke, and he starts talking about penguins looking like nuns with the rosary beads and I thought ‘nice one’ and I’m laughing.

“Then he talks about the wolves and their fierceness or their strength (reminding him of the Irish) - this is all paraphrasing because this just happened – and then he goes ‘then I went to the ‘African Savannah’ and my heart sank a little bit as soon as I heard the word ‘Africa’.

“I just thought ‘please don’t do this to me. I’m literally one of the only people of colour sitting here full of a room of white people’.

“And then came the savannah and taxi drivers. He acknowledged that the room was full of white people” and said that everyone is laughing so it mustn't be a racist joke.

The Bray native walked out of the event, admitting she felt reluctant to get up straight away in case she was heckled.

After the incident the presenter confirmed that she had received an email from Tiernan in which he apologised and suggested they should also speak by phone.

He told her that she was right to call him out and take a stand and admitted that his joke was offensive.

“He rang me that day and we chatted for nearly an hour. And it was a very positive conversation as far as I'm concerned. He did a lot of talking. He expressed things to me that I just felt were so powerful,” O’Neill told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne.

Independent.ie has contacted Tommy Tiernan for comment.


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