RTÉ board members were ‘deceived’ about Toy Show the Musical, Oireachtas media committee hears

Anne O’Leary of RTÉ board’s Audit and Risk Committee told Wednesday’s hearing the show was ‘presented as a fait accompli’

Board members of RTÉ were “deceived” about Toy Show the Musical, the stage production that lost about €2.3 million, according to chairwoman of the Oireachtas Media Committee Niamh Smyth.

A Grant Thornton report on the musical found the board of RTÉ was not formally told about the production until after a contract had already been signed with the Convention Centre Dublin to host the musical, at significant cost.

It said a commitment by senior RTÉ executives to bring the proposed project to the board’s audit committee never happened, while required approval by the wider board was never sought.

Moya Doherty, who was chair of the RTÉ board during the period, agreed that directors would have been required to approve the show, given it was to cost more than €2 million.


In her interview with Grant Thornton, Ms Doherty said she believed every board member “had the opportunity to ask questions, raise objections or disapprove of the project”.

The chairwoman of the board’s Audit and Risk Committee, Anne O’Leary, told Wednesday’s Oireachtas media committee meeting the show was “presented as a fait accompli. There was no financial information given to us.”

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said the show was a “flop”, and there was no proper oversight done.

She put it to Ms O’Leary that this was “all under your watch”.

Ms O’Leary replied “that’s a little unfair… there is a rigorous process in place in RTÉ about how projects are supposed to get approval for funding or not”.

She added: “It was the sponsoring executives, Rory Coveney and Dee Forbes deliberately circumvented that procedure.”

She also insisted she asked questions about the plans for the musical.

Former director-general Ms Forbes, former RTÉ director of strategy Mr Coveney and Ms Doherty declined invitations to appear before the committee. Ms Forbes has cited health reasons for not appearing at Oireachtas committee meetings on the controversies at the national broadcaster.

Fianna Fáil TD Ms Smyth appealed to all three “to please not put the committee in the position of compelling [appearances]”. She asked them “to make themselves available when they’re fit and ready and able to do that.”

Ms Smyth said she attended the musical and “It was pretty obvious… there was a real problem.” She said the Grant Thornton report “clearly shows that board members were not given information”.

Ms Smyth added that she would “go as far as saying [board members] were deceived about the whole thing”.

Earlier, Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin asked current RTÉ director-general Kevin Bakhurst who had decided to pull advertising about the TV licence fee from non-RTÉ platforms at a time when sales “fell off a cliff”.

RTÉ was expected to lose €21 million in licence fee sales by the end of 2023 after it was hit by multiple controversies including revelations about undisclosed payments to former Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy.

Mr Bakhurst confirmed he made the decision to pull the advertising.

In the context of RTÉ's prior campaigning for reform of the licence fee regime, Mr Griffin asked: “Was this strategic? Was this part of hoping the licence fee will ultimately fail completely?”

Mr Bakhurst replied “Categorically not.”

He said the “main motivator” was “we didn’t feel it was appropriate to be spending licence payers’ money chasing them to pay licence fees” as the scandal was ongoing.

Mr Bakhurst said it would have been “tone deaf” at the time.

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Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics