The Managing Director of RTÉ Television, Noel Curran, has said there was absolutely no political interference in the decision to change the panel of guests for last Friday's Late Late Show debate on the health service.

Mr Curran said he made the decision to change the panel to achieve a more balanced range of views and said no-one had contacted him prior to his action.

Earlier, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he knew nothing about claims that the Government made calls to stop a guest appearing on the show.

Mr Ahern said he had never had the ability in 30 years to direct anything on RTÉ.

'No phone calls were made to my knowledge', he said this morning.

The Taoiseach said that if he or anybody associated with him made such a call, any guest would have got double the length of time on air.

Minister for Health Mary Harney also insisted that the people who appear on the Late Late Show is an issue for the programme and RTÉ.

Ms Harney said she personally had no knowledge that Professor John Crown was to appear on the programme.

Panel decision

In a statement, RTÉ said that in preparing for the Late Late Show discussion regarding the health service, it sought to bring together a balanced panel for fair and thorough debate.

It said that a decision was taken to reconfigure the panel to represent as broad a spectrum of positions and opinions as possible. As a consequence, one panellist was changed.

The statement also said that this decision was taken internally within RTÉ.

Earlier, Dr James Reilly, Fine Gael Health Spokesperson had called on RTÉ to reveal why the decision was made to drop the consultant.

He claimed that a Government source had contacted RTÉ.

Dr Reilly said that if a Government source requested that Mr Crown be taken off the programme, it amounted to censorship, which was not acceptable.

Friday night's panel consisted of journalists Eamon Dunphy and Mary Raftery, Gerry Robinson, former Chief Executive of Granada and presenter of the BBC series 'Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS?', and Professor Maccon Keane, Consultant Oncologist at University College Hospital, Galway.