RTÉ pay controversy: The questions broadcaster faces at Dáil committee today

A lot of individuals knew about different parts of the Ryan Tubridy pay deal: Why did they not act on that knowledge?

Oireachtas Arts and Media committee and Dáil’s PAC each want to hear from Dee Forbes directly at hearings this week, when they question senior RTÉ executives about the debacle

At lunchtime, RTÉ executives and board members will face their first grilling at an Oireachtas committee over the payments scandal at the broadcaster.

Who is attending?

From the RTÉ board:

  • Siún Ní Raghallaigh (chair)
  • Robert Shortt (RTÉ staff rep on board)
  • Anne O’Leary (Chair of Audit and Risk Committee)

From the executive management team:

  • Adrian Lynch, interim deputy director general
  • Geraldine O’Leary, commercial director
  • Richard Collins, chief financial officer (CFO)
  • Rory Coveney, director of strategy

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 some key documents and was aware of elements of the agreement with Renault, as well as being kept informed of negotiations on Mr Tubridy’s new contract. A spokeswoman for RTÉ said Mr Jennings has not come to the committee today as he is in hospital following a procedure.


Ahead of the hotly anticipated session (and in no particular order), what questions need to be answered?

Why was the wrong figure published?

This is a simple question and a burning one. We have plenty of information now about the “how” of the payment, but only supposition and theory as to the “why”. RTÉ should give a clear, one-line explanation as to why the byzantine and opaque payments were seen as necessary, and why the wrong figure was published.

What advice was Dee Forbes given?

Ms Forbes made what felt like a pointed reference in her statement on Monday, saying: “I did not at any stage act contrary to any advice.” Can the members say what advice she was given? Who gave it?

What about the underwriting the deal and the pushback? And ensuring it was to be “cost neutral” for Renault.

One of the most eye-catching things about the arrangement is that it committed RTÉ to backstopping the commercial relationship with Renault – ie agreeing to pay Mr Tubridy if the carmaker wouldn’t or couldn’t. It also claims that the arrangement was “subject to a condition, imposed by the commercial partner, that it was to be cost neutral for the commercial partner” – approved at draft stage by Dee Forbes and ultimately implemented by means of a credit note on her direction.

The RTÉ statement first makes reference to the underwriting element in an email from Mr Tubridy’s agent in March 2020 – but says it “was part of ongoing discussions at that time”. When did it first emerge? Who first mooted it? How was it seen within RTÉ?

The RTÉ report says this aspect was agreed verbally by Ms Forbes on May 7th but was the subject of “significant pushback” within RTÉ. Who pushed back? Were they overruled? Did they do anything about it or flag concerns if so?

The “tripartite agreement” that governed the payment plan was “arranged by the commercial director” – that’s Geraldine O’Leary, who will be at the committee today. Was she aware of this aspect? What about the issuance of a credit note to make the arrangement cost-neutral for Renualt? Did she or anyone else have any concerns about that? Is that normal practice?

Why were payments labelled “consultancy services”?

The payments to Mr Tubridy that went through the now-infamous Barter Account were labelled as “consultancy services”. Grant Thornton finds that this did not reflect the substance of the transactions. Why, then, were they labelled as such?

Whose decision was it to label them in this manner? (Grant Thornton finds the evidence is “inconclusive” on this point).

How did the 2017-2019 payments emerge so late?

A key part of the puzzle is payments to Mr Tubridy in the period 2017-2019. RTÉ has said this only emerged last week after a request by the RTÉ board – but is now claiming it cannot talk about them as they are subject to a second phase of reporting by Grant Thornton. Is that credible, given the people in front of the committee today? Do any of them know anything about it? Why was Ms Forbes seemingly unaware of the payments, per her statement this week?

What about exit payments?

The RTÉ statement makes clear there were “exit payments” due to Mr Tubridy as part of his previous contract. What is an exit payment? Are they standard in RTÉ contracts? The statement refers to a proposal from the previous RTÉ CFO in 2019 (which seemingly formed the basis for contract negotiations) that references “an offset” of the exit payment. What is an offset? Was anything paid out under this?

How much did the CFO know?

Was any reference to Mr Tubridy’s contract negotiations made in any handover from the former CFO to the current CFO, Richard Collins? The report states that Mr Collins joined RTÉ in January 2020 at which stage “key terms had been agreed and discussions were at an advanced stage” – but RTÉ's own timeline shows substantial parts of the deal, including the RTÉ guarantee, were still not nailed down at this stage. It says Mr Collins was not involved in negotiating the agreement or putting arrangements in place to facilitate it – but what did he know about it? It appears it was not budgeted for – was this not flagged to the CFO?

How did the payments go undetected for so long?

The RTÉ statement contains a detailed account of how “Top 10″ talent earnings are compiled and published – including processes to “ensure that all liabilities under contracts are included”, close scrutiny of payments, enquiries as to whether additional services were provided that have not yet been invoiced, inclusion of pension contributions and that earnings reflect the charge to RTÉ – and whether or not services have been invoiced. That is then sent for internal review by the financial controller and then the CFO.

It is given to auditors to verify the earnings who are given access to invoices and contracts, who then give a letter of reasonable assurance to the financial controller.

Given how extensive this process was, how were the payments not detected? Was it possible for them to be detected? What does it say about the adequacy of the controls?

What happened when they were?

In March of this year auditors identified an issue “in relation to the transparency of certain payments” and flagged it to the Audit and Risk Committee (ARC) of the oversight board (this is not the management board, but the external board chaired by Ms Ní Raghallaigh). What precisely caused concern about transparency? It’s understood the ARC sought an explanation from Ms Forbes over the payments and felt there was not enough clarity forthcoming, so called in Grant Thornton. What did she tell them?

The chair of the ARC, Anne O’Leary, will be at the committee today, so answers should be obtainable.

Why was there no effort to get a response to the RTÉ statement from Dee Forbes?

Ms Forbes is all over the statement put out by RTÉ on Tuesday, including the assertion that she was the only person who had total visibility of the deal. But it says she has “not had the opportunity to respond to the details set out below” and may challenge them. It’s a basic principle of journalism that efforts are made to contact the subjects of publication before something is published. RTÉ has a lot of experience in journalism.

Why was she not contacted? Was there any effort made? The broadcaster has said she was suspended. What was the reason for the suspension?

Were politicians kept in the dark?

The most important facts about the review were only communicated to the Government shortly before publication. Why so? When it became clear that this would relate to significant issues about a high-profile person, should the Coalition not have been briefed?

What about the executive team wages?

How much are those executives in attendance paid? Have they ever taken a pay cut? Do they have any earnings outside RTÉ?

What about historical deals like this?

Most of RTÉ's top talent have now confirmed their figures for fees are accurate and they don’t have any side deals. But have any existed historically? What about income earned outside RTÉ for commercial work done by top talent? Does the broadcaster have governance and disclosure mechanisms for that? What are they? Are potential conflicts of interest accounted and controlled for?

What about records relating to the deal?

The RTÉ report makes reference to “numerous internal and external meetings, discussions and correspondence to finalise terms of the contract, the wording of side letters and the arrangements with the commercial sponsor”. Will the broadcaster release this documentation?

RTÉ's payment for commercial events?

Why did RTÉ also pick up the tab for commercial events, running to €30,586 (but costing the broadcaster €47,477 as they ran the payment through the Barter Account).

What did Tubridy or his representatives know?

The statement from RTÉ outlines that he was not aware of the credit note provided by RTÉ to Renault. Was his agent made aware of this arrangement, which meant the deal was cost neutral to Renault? Was he personally told about the deal to underwrite the agreement with Renault?

Did any of the witnesses suspect anything? Should they have asked more questions?

The RTÉ statement finds no member of the executive board “had all the necessary information to understand that the publicly declared figures for Ryan Tubridy could have been wrong”. But it makes clear a lot of them knew about different parts of the deal – did they have any suspicions?

Were they at all times comfortable with the deal? If not, what did they do about it? Do they think they should have asked more questions?

Adrian Lynch – then director of audiences, channels and marketing and now de facto acting director general – was aware of “elements” of the commercial agreement but not key parts like the underwriting of it – does he feel now he should have asked more questions?

The Director of Legal and Director of HR “were not involved in the negotiation of any aspects of these arrangements” but were aware of negotiations being under way. Why did they know so little? Were they told anything of the aspects that later became controversial, even if they weren’t involved in the negotiation?

Lots of questions. We await the answers.