RTÉ's ‘process of elimination’ maths shouldn’t prove too hard

Binding confidentiality clause does not appear to tally with commitment to publish payout total in annual report

In yet more good news for lawyers, RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst has “sought an update to the legal advice previously received” about the disclosures he can make in relation to payouts for executives who were “exited” from the organisation. There have been calls for him to simply throw out the advice he has received to date for the sake of transparency, although this, as he told the Oireachtas media committee last Wednesday, could be financially unwise.

“This will end up with RTÉ with another big legal bill if I say too much here. Whatever the privilege around it is, there is only a certain level of protection,” he said, a message that went down predictably badly with both politicians and commentators.

Bakhurst also said the total figure for the 2023 payouts – the ones that happened as a result of his executive reshuffle – would be published in RTÉ's annual report, expected out this summer, but that he did not want to give it to the committee because then the individual numbers “could be worked out through a process of elimination”.

One part of this jigsaw has already fallen into place, however, making it seem inevitable that the rest of the picture will be revealed. In its statement on Saturday, RTÉ said neither former director of commercial Geraldine O’Leary, who was due to retire in 2023 and went a little earlier than planned, nor former director of legal affairs Paula Mullooly, who decided to leave RTÉ at the end of the year, received an exit payment.


And then there were two. Richard Collins, the former chief financial officer, departed “by mutual agreement” after months of independent mediation and “with a binding confidentiality clause that was agreed to by both sides”. Rory Coveney, the former director of strategy turned would-be musical impresario, also received an exit payment, with RTÉ volunteering that in his case it will be recouped by mid-2024.

This implies that it was the equivalent of a year’s salary, and given Coveney was earning at least €200,000, a payout of about that order seems likely.

Bakhurst maintained on Saturday that the binding confidentiality clause with Collins “cannot be breached” in the interest of fairness and respect. But quite how that squares with the commitment to publish an executive payouts total in the accounts for 2023, a year with apparently only two such payouts, is unclear. The sum, assuming anyone is prepared to wait to do it, should prove rather easy.