RTÉ’s former chief financial officer was paid €450,000 as part of controversial exit package

Breda O’Keeffe’s payout signed off by former director general Dee Forbes but not brought to executive board before approval

RTÉ's former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe was paid €450,000 as part of a controversial exit package, director general Kevin Bakhurst has confirmed at a meeting of the Oireachtas Media Committee.

Mr Bakhurst also came to the defence of RTÉ's director of human resources Eimear Cusack after she was accused at the committee of not doing her job when she did not flag the exit package with other management figures at the broadcaster.

Legal firm McCann FitzGerald was commissioned to review voluntary exit schemes at RTÉ.

Its report found that Ms O’Keeffe’s exit package – which was signed off on by Dee Forbes, RTÉ’s then director general – was not brought to the executive board before it was approved.


The review concluded that as a result the terms of the exit scheme “were not complied with” in Ms O’Keeffe’s case, however it said this was the fault of RTÉ and Ms Forbes, rather than the former chief financial officer.

The report said Ms O’Keeffe put forward a business case for how RTÉ could save €200,000 under her departure, based on a “named individual” succeeding her.

By the time it was “known with certainty” that such savings would not materialise, Ms O’Keeffe had accepted her exit package, the report said.

Ms Cusack told Wednesday’s committee meeting that she was assured the required savings would be made and she believed Ms O’Keeffe’s departure would be compliant with the exit scheme in place at the time.

“I did not question the approval process as it was approved by the ultimate decision maker in the organisation [Ms Forbes]. On that basis, I took the instruction in good faith,” she said.

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster challenged Ms Cusack on why she did not raise the exit package with other management at RTÉ.

Ms Cusack replied: “The assurance that I was given, was that the cost savings would be achieved and I had no reason not to believe that.”

Asked if she had been afraid of Ms Forbes and tackling her on the issue Ms Cusack said: “I had no reason not trust that the savings wouldn’t have been made.” She also said: “I wasn’t afraid of Dee Forbes.”

Ms Munster put it to Mr Bakhurst that Ms Cusack, a current member of the executive board, had not done her job.

Mr Bakhurst said that Ms Cusack recognised that while she did question the exit package, “she probably should have questioned it a bit more”. He said Ms Cusack had joined RTÉ a relatively short time before the exit package was arranged for Ms O’Keeffe.

“I think Eimear recognises that this shouldn’t have happened.”

He added: “From what I’ve discovered about RTÉ this is the way the organisation was run, in a siloed way, with decisions being taken outside of the normal routes, avoiding governance, not going through the executive not going to [the] board when they should.”

Subsequently, the chairman of the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, criticised how Ms O’Keeffe’s €450,000 exit package came about and said “there are moral reasons why it should be paid back”.

He added: “We’re not talking about a small sum of money, we’re heading for half a million euros.”

He said the PAC will assess the Media Committee proceedings as it considers how to continue its own examination of the controversies at RTÉ.

He said the PAC was waiting for approval from the Committee for Procedure and Oversight before it could hold more meetings with RTÉ.

The payout to Ms O’Keeffe has prompted considerable outrage within RTÉ itself, with Mr Bakhurst saying he shared the anger of “everyone” at the organisation.

“I have absolute sympathy for the staff who are outraged about it because I am fairly outraged myself.”

RTÉ now has procedures in place to prevent similar incidents, he said, while it will pick up the tab for any Revenue Commissioners clawback of tax exemptions on up to 10 payouts highlighted by McCann FitzGerald in its report on the matter.

Mr Bakhurst said the law firm’s report had attracted significant legal opposition. A solicitor acting on behalf of Ms O’Keeffe also sent him a letter on Tuesday instructing him to say certain things at Wednesday’s hearing, he told the committee.

Ms O’Keeffe, Ms Forbes, former chairwoman Moya Doherty and former director of strategy Rory Coveney were all no-shows at the four-hour Oireachtas session, at which RTÉ also said it planned to seek a new auditor when Deloitte’s current term ends.

Mr Bakhurst declined to give a total for the payouts issued to RTÉ executives who resigned or “were exited” after he refreshed its leadership team last year, but he said the sum will would be published in RTÉ's next annual report.

Earlier at the Media Committee hearing Mr Bakhurst said it would have been “tone deaf” to pay for advertising demanding that people pay the TV licence at a time when there was “scandal unfolding” last year.

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.

Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin asked Mr Bakhurst who decided to pull advertising of the licence fee from non-RTÉ platforms at a time when sales “fell off a cliff”.

Mr Bakhurst confirmed that he made the decision saying: “given what was emerging about RTÉ at that stage and the constant scandal that was unfolding, I thought it would be inappropriate for us to be paying for adverts demanding that people pay the licence fee.”

Mr Griffin said that given the scale of losses in licence fee revenue, paying for advertising would have been a “small outlay for a huge return”.

He asked: “Was this strategic? Was this part of hoping the licence fee will ultimately fail completely, collapse.”

Mr Bakhurst replied “Categorically not”.

He said the decision was taken on two basis, the first being RTÉ was already worried about cash flow “so we were looking about stopping discretionary spending.”

He said the “main motivator” was that “we didn’t feel it was appropriate to be spending licence payers’ money chasing them to pay licence fees” as the scandal was ongoing and it would have been “tone deaf” at the time.

He said there were discussions with both the Department of Media and An Post – which collects the licence fee – about the move.

Mr Griffin said it was an “unbelievable decision” to “pull advertising completely of what is your lifeblood”.

Mr Bakhurst rejected this saying: “I was trying to be respectful to the audience at that stage.”

He confirmed that RTÉ will resume paying for advertising on the TV licence on February 20th.

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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