Catherine Martin will not rule ‘anything in or out’ on future decision on RTÉ board

Report on Toy Show the Musical shows ‘dysfunctional relationship’ between RTÉ's board and senior executives at the time

Minister for Arts and Media Catherine Martin has said she will not rule “anything in or out” when it comes to her confidence in the RTÉ board going forward, following a highly critical report into the failure of the Toy Show the Musical production.

A report by auditors Grant Thornton detailed major failures in the governance and oversight of the project, which made a loss of €2.2 million. It found the musical had not been signed off by the RTÉ board, or its audit committee.

Two further reports from independent expert groups commissioned by the Government, examining the governance structures and organisational culture of RTÉ, are expected to be completed by the end of February.

Ms Martin said she did not want to “preempt” the findings of those reports, and as such had decided it was “best” that the broadcaster’s board remain in place “for now”.


Speaking on Friday, the Green Party deputy leader said that after she received those reports she would make “an informed decision”, and was “not ruling anything in or out” at this point.

The Toy Show musical, which ran for several weeks from December 2022, only sold 11,044 tickets despite early internal projections of sell-out shows reaching more than 100,000 people. The report outlined that initial ticket sales were so poor one figure involved suggested the production be cancelled in the weeks after it was first announced.

The board of RTÉ were not formally informed about the production until after a contract had already been signed with the Convention Centre in Dublin to host the musical, at significant cost. Several board members and other senior figures interviewed for the report admitted that estimates and figures underpinning the project were not properly interrogated.

The report said the loss made by the musical was understated by €75,000, as separate revenue was recorded as sponsorship income from the show, with “no objective justification”.

Speaking at Government Buildings, Ms Martin said the report highlighted “chaotic” and “frenzied” decision making at the top of the broadcaster in recent years.

The effort to overstate sponsorship income from the musical by €75,000, in an apparent effort to make the losses “look a bit better”, was “bizarre accounting and highly inappropriate,” she said.

RTÉ had provided assurances members of the board and senior executives who had been involved at the time of the musical’s production would attend Oireachtas committee hearings to answer questions, she said.

Ms Martin said she hoped the former director general, Dee Forbes, who did not take part in the recent review due to “medical reasons”, would decide to come before the committees, as well as the former chair, Moya Doherty.

Ms Martin reiterated that replacing the current TV licence system with direct Exchequer funding for RTÉ should “remain on the table”. Previous governments had not taken the “tough decision” on settling the future funding model of the broadcaster, she said. The Minister questioned whether this had led to the “frenzied, chaotic,” was RTÉ had been run, in an effort to “break even”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said while he had confidence in the board of RTÉ, the directors had “further questions to answer”. Speaking in Galway, the Fine Gael leader said he was “very disappointed” the musical had proceeded without board approval, which should not have happened.

He said he was hopeful legislation could be brought forward later this year setting out the future funding model for RTÉ.

“We are going to move towards a new model. I’d like us to legislate for that this year, put it in place next year. There isn’t an agreement at Cabinet level yet,” he said. “I think probably the most helpful thing would be for the Government ministers to sit down together and make a decision on what we are going to do because the uncertainty itself is a problem,” he said.

In a statement earlier on Friday, Ms Martin said the report highlighted a “dysfunctional relationship” between RTÉ's board and senior executives at the time, as well as “serious failings” in oversight and financial management.

“I believe that, for now, the current board should remain in place to facilitate the proper day-to-day functioning of the organisation, to ensure the continuation of the process of reform and restoration of trust; and to enable ongoing accountability to, and scrutiny by, the Oireachtas,” she said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms Martin said if the board was removed there would be no obligation on directors to attend planned Oireachtas committee hearings, where taking questions on the controversy would be crucial for “accountability”.

Individuals were not named in the report by Grant Thornton “for legal reasons”, in order to get “full co-operation” from people who had been involved in the project, she said.

Commenting on the controversy, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said he believed “further change at board level now would be counterproductive”.

It was important that there was “stability” at the top of RTÉ, and “significant change” of the board at present would not be helpful, given ongoing reforms under way at the broadcaster, he told the Today with Claire Byrne show.

In a statement on Thursday, Siún Ní Raghallaigh, chairwoman of the RTÉ board since November 2022, said it was clear the broadcaster had “grossly underestimated” the risks involved in the undertaking.

Information had been “withheld” from the board during the musical’s production and there was a “significant lapse” in oversight of the project, she said.

Ms Ní Raghallaigh confirmed the board was willing to attend a hearing of the Oireachtas public accounts committee, as well as the media committee, to discuss the report. Five members of the current board were directors when the musical was in production, including Anne O’Leary and PJ Mathews, as well as David Harvey, Daire Hickey and Susan Ahern, who joined the board in September 2021.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin said on Friday morning that the Grant Thornton report outlines that “significant lapses of governance” occurred in respect of the show.

Speaking in Cork, the Minister emphasised the need for “balance and stability” in RTÉ following a turbulent period. He said there are two additional reports in respect of the governance of RTÉ which have to be completed and the findings should be awaited.

Mr Martin expressed the view that further instability at RTÉ would be detrimental to the public interest.

“RTE has been through a lot of instability in the last while. It is an important public service broadcaster and I believe now, yes, by all means people should go before the (Oireachtas) Committee that is responsible for media and no doubt the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) will want to have hearings as well.”

“But there is also a need for stability and cohesion right now in respect of RTE - there is a new strategy emerging. The new chairperson is saying and has said to Minister that she is working well with the board and with the new chief executive and executives that have come into play.”

Mr Martin said that a wise course of action would involve moving to “steady” RTÉ.

“We will be inviting in, both members of the board and the executive in respect of that particular saga surrounding the musical,” he added.

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Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times