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Questions remain over Kathryn Thomas’ car brand connections despite Rose success

By Conor O’Carroll

At the midway point of the Rose of Tralee competition, the decision to break tradition and appoint Kathryn Thomas as co-host alongside Dáithí Ó Sé looks to be a success.

Taking turns interviewing each Rose, Thomas and Ó Sé eased through the first night without any gaffs or wayward comments and facilitated open discussions of autism and the additional challenges the competition brings for those with ADHD.

Thomas’ calm performance has prompted some to suggest her name for the now-vacant RTÉ Radio One show previously occupied by Ryan Tubridy.

Much like Tubridy, however, Thomas has a close relationship with many car brands, leaving the door open to suggestions of editorial influence over the prominent radio show.

There was some surprise when Thomas, also a Noel Kelly Management client, was announced as co-host of this year’s Rose of Tralee following her poorly timed announcement of her latest brand deal with Peugeot.

In her Instagram post, released on the same day as RTÉ revealed Ryan Tubridy’s top-up payments, Thomas is pictured standing next to a new Peugeot 408, valued at between €40,000 to €53,000.

This also wasn’t the first time the presenter of RTÉ’s ‘Operation Transformation’, formerly of ‘Rapid’ and ‘No Frontiers’ has received cars from manufacturers, having previously held lucrative brand ambassadorships with Audi and Land Rover Jaguar.

Her relationship with Audi dates back to at least 2012 when she promoted the brand across social media and attended its sponsored events and showroom openings.

In return for this, she received a convertible Audi A5, a car she described as her favourite accessory and praised for its Alcantara seats.

After her stint with Audi, Thomas moved up to a more luxurious brand, partnering with Land Rover.

As part of this partnership, Thomas received a Range Rover Evoque Plug-in Hybrid and later took part in a controversial greenwashing campaign that was criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI).

In a now-deleted sponsored advertorial published by the Irish Times in 2021, Thomas promoted the SUV for its sustainability and zero emissions when driving in electric mode.

The advertisement was part of a series of articles that drew criticism from the ASAI for not producing evidence that driving a Land Rover SUV would lead to a more sustainable lifestyle.

RTÉ did not respond to questions asking whether Thomas had received permission from RTÉ management to enter into these brand partnerships.

However, they did state that “RTÉ is expediting the establishment of its Register of Interests for staff and contractors, in consultation with the TUG [Trade Union Group]. The terms of reference for the register are being developed. In addition, Acting Deputy DG Adrian Lynch has written to all relevant line managers in RTÉ seeking clarification on any potential breaches of RTÉ’s journalism and content guidelines and meetings are underway”.

Noel Kelly Management did not respond to a request for comment on Thomas’ behalf.

The Rose of Tralee itself is intertwined with car brand sponsorship, with the website prominently featuring a competition to win a 232 Kia Ceed GT Line.

Perhaps then it’s little wonder that Kathryn Thomas is very comfortable presenting it.