HEALTH minister Mary Harney is set to initiate legal action against Newstalk over what the radio station has admitted to be "untruthful" and "deeply hurtful" claims about her private life broadcast last week.

It is understood that Harney has placed the matter "in the hands of her lawyers". Informed sources say legal action is inevitable after veteran journalist Nell McCafferty made outrageous and untrue comments about her consumption of alcohol on Thursday's The Tom Dunne Show.

Newstalk issued two apologies to the minister in the 48 hours after the broadcast. Meanwhile, the station risked aggravating the situation yesterday when one of its top presenters, Seán Moncrieff, issued a tweet that said he was about to make revelations about the Taoiseach and minister John Gormley.

The comment from his Twitter account at 1.30pm joked: "Crystal Swing will be on the show on Monday. We'll also be revealing that Brian Cowan [sic] is a heroin addict and that John Gormely [sic] has syphilis."

Asked about the tweet, Moncrieff said: "It is obviously a joke, given what happened with Newstalk and Mary Harney. Anyone who doesn't see that has something wrong with them, possibly mentally. I'm not saying those things are true, that is obvious. I made a simple joke about the situation and that is all that is. It has been a mortifying experience for Newstalk and if anyone is trying to imply I meant that, they would be mistaken."

After he was contacted by the Sunday Tribune, he further tweeted: "Just to clarify for the literal-minded among you: my last tweet was a joke. You know, humour..."

Newstalk chief executive Frank Cronin said Moncrieff's personal tweets were "nothing to do with Newstalk" and did not reflect the station's views.

There are growing tensions between the government and Newstalk with one senior ministerial source criticising the "constant insulting of politicians" and claiming it was "amateur hour every day on Newstalk. It's time the management started to take charge of the situation".

Government figures declined to be drawn on Moncrieff's comments, although the senior ministerial source said they "showed the depths the media have fallen to".

Newstalk is clearly reeling from the fall-out from McCafferty's outburst. Dunne read out an apology on his show on Friday which said: "Newstalk apologises without reservation to Mary Harney… and accepts that these untruthful statements were deeply hurtful to Mary Harney and her family."

He said the station "particularly apologises for the references to the death of Mary Harney's mother, which were acutely insensitive in the context of this distasteful broadcast."

Dunne added that the "interview should never have been broadcast and the fact that these allegations were made represents an abject failure on the part of Newstalk to meet basic standards of common decency."

Friends of Harney expressed astonishment that the allegations had been broadcast and said the minister would have been aggrieved at the reference to the death of her mother. "You couldn't let that stand," one source said.

Harney has previously sued Magill in 2002. The magazine paid a substantial undisclosed sum to a charity of Harney's choice as well as paying her legal costs and expenses.

The health minister faced calls for her resignation last week after revelations over x-rays in Tallaght hospital.

Harney is still in New Zealand on a St Patrick's Day government trip.