RTÉ payments controversy: Executives tell Oireachtas committee of 'cultural issue' and say it will publish Kielty deal if he agrees

Published date28 June 2023
AuthorConor Pope
Publication titleIrish Times: Web Edition Articles (Dublin, Ireland)
* Four top executives and three board members at RTÉ appeared before the Oireachtas arts and media committee over the Ryan Tubridy pay controversy

* Hearing told deal done with Patrick Kielty over Late Late Show role could be made public within days if presenter agrees.

* Concerns over culture at RTÉ highlighted at hearing.

* Catherine Martin said the hearing revealed a shocking failure of governance at senior management level in RTÉ.

* Role of Tubridy agent Noel Kelly comes under the spotlight repeatedly as TDs and Senators ask what his role is in dealings with broadcaster

* RTÉ executives accept that when paying some presenters large sums they are sometimes bidding against themselves

* RTÉ says negotiations about Ryan Tubridy's radio contract have been paused. However Tubridy disputes the claim he is out of contract. Read Arthur Beesley's story.

* RTÉ published a nine-page statement yesterday evening on €225,000 in hidden Tubridy payments in 2020-2022, while disclosing nothing new about undeclared payments of €120,000 in 2017-2019. Arthur Beesley has an analysis.

* Today is key as the next steps in the secret payments drama will be determined by politics. Jack Horgan-Jones asks do politicians have it in for RTÉ, or does RTÉ have it in for politicians? He talks more about the day of reckoning for RTÉ in his political digest

* Olivia Kelly gives a timeline on who did what and when according to the RTÉ report

* In the Dáil chamber, the Tubsgate affair was giving people a bit of a fit of the vapours, writes Miriam Lord

* One of our most read RTÉ pieces is by Fintan O'Toole who says, 'Ryan Tubridy chose silence instead of speaking out. An extended silence should follow'

Good morning and welcome to another day of questions - and maybe even some answers. If the set piece event yesterday was the release of the "comprehensive statement" from the RTÉ board detailing who knew what and when and what did they do with the information, today all eyes will be on a windowless committee room in Leinster House where some of those who knew something and others who knew nothing will be grilled by TDs and senators. The hearing starts at 1:30pm but we have a lot to catch up on before then.

What the hell is going on?

First we have the general secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), Seamus Dooley.

Speaking on Morning Ireland he said that the statement from RTÉ on Tuesday had in many respects made matters worse.

"What we now know is what happened. We know who was involved, but not quite how. For me, the big reason is the why. What the hell is going on? We don't know why the executive board got involved in this in this way. We do not know why it was deemed appropriate for a special arrangement to be put in place for one individual. I'm also confused as to why some of the executive board were not involved.

"The reports specifically says that the human resources director had no role in it. And what that points to is that there is a special treatment for a class of worker in this organisation, and the human resources director is not involved. Not a criticism of her, but of the process, because surely there has to be some someone who says, how does that fit with our strategic policy here? And that's a real problem."

Nothing more eloquent than vested interests disguised as points of principle

Seamus Dooley had more to say.

"What is really important is today does not become some sort of punishment beating for RTE or indeed that it gives succor to those who are in the long grass who have been attacking public service broadcasting.

"It is within the gift of the executive board to explain in detail and probably tedious detail who did what and why. Why did I sign the contract? Why did I not advise Dee Forbes that this bit doesn't make sense. And that's necessary. It's necessary to explain why public money was spent by RTE to provide receptions and opportunities for Renault.

The reality is that RTE doesn't have a crew in the Midlands at the moment, yet RTE provided technical staff and facilities for receptions. So literally it means giving the committee that information and if they don't, it will just become a slagging match.

"RTE is a very good public service organisation. It serves the public very well. It's an organization I know probably too well at this stage. The problem is that there are a number of politicians who don't like public service broadcasting. There are a lot of media commercial companies for whom RTE is a rival, and there is nothing more eloquent than vested interests disguised as points of principle. And what I would be fearful of is that because of the actions and inactions of the executive board, it just becomes an opportunity to attack RTE. And the most unforgivable thing from the staff point of view is that the executive board has allowed this to happen."

People are just furious

RTÉ's NUJ representative Emma O'Kelly has described the station's deal with Ryan Tubridy as "grubby".

Speaking to Ivan Yates on Newstalk's Pat Kenny show, Ms O'Kelly said that it details of the commercial sponsorship deal for Ryan Tubridy reinforced the notion "that there's one rule for some very highly paid people in the organisation and another rule for all the rest of us."

Ms O'Kelly said she and her colleagues were subjected to intense scrutiny with regard to all aspects of their job which could be annoying and irritating, but they understood the rationale behind this level of probity.

"But then when we see, you know, RTÉ paying for the hosting of commercial sponsorship events, in relation to Ryan Tubridy. The contradiction there is just enormous."

There was a sense of outrage among staff, she said. "People are just furious," especially because for a long time they have known about the two tier system within the station. Staff in some parts of the country were hamstrung because of "all the shortcomings and the failings" which have been to the fore.

Ms O'Kelly also addressed a protest outside RTÉ's offices on Tuesday. Bryan O'Brien was there to document it

The RTÉ attendees are in for this afternoon's Oireachtas hearing.

From the RTÉ board:

* Siún Ní Raghallaigh (chair)

* Robert Shortt (RTÉ staff rep on board)

* Anne O'Leary

From the executive management team:

* Adrian Lynch, interim deputy director general

* Geraldine O'Leary, commercial director

* Richard Collins, chief financial officer

* Rory Coveney, director of strategy

Jack Horgan Jones writes that the list represents most - but not all - of those who the committee had sought. Jim Jennings, the Director of Content, is not going to Leinster House. According to RTÉ's statement on Tuesday, Mr Jennings was a signatory of Ryan Tubridy's 'Five Year Contract' and also signed a letter providing for early termination of his previous contract.

RTÉ said on Tuesday he was "kept informed of the progress of the negotiations and ultimately signed the 'Five Year Contract' for TV and Radio Services and the letter providing for the early termination of Ryan Tubridy's previous Radio and TV Contract"

Regarding the later tri-partite agreement with Renault, the broadcaster said: "He was aware of elements of the commercial agreement but not RTÉ's underwriting of it," and that he "received" the agreement.

Fianna Fáil TD Christopher O'Sullivan, who is a member of the Oireachtas Media Committee has said that the questioning of RTÉ executives will be "forensic" and he did not want any "fudging".The Committee was seeking transparency and answers to the many outstanding questions, he said on Morning Ireland.

However, he said he feared there would be deflections and that the meeting of the Oireachtas committee "could prove a futile exercise.

"We need the likes of the chief financial officer in the committee today to be able to answer some of the questions. We need the likes of the Head of Commercial who has been there since 2018, so you'd imagine would have good oversight and good knowledge of what's transpired. So that's the first issue for me.

The current chairperson of the RTÉ Board Siún Ní Raghallaigh and Interim Deputy Director General Adrian Lynch will attend the meeting.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous If they're the only two who appear in front of us. We have TDs and Senators who have a lot of serious questions that the public are posing that we need answered," said Mr O'Sullivan as he pointed to "contradictions" between the RTÉ statement and the...

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