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Row breaks out between two Oireachtas committees investigating RTÉ

FF’s Niamh Smyth says two committees covering the same topics at the same time had resulted in negative public commentary

RTÉ at the PAC October 12th. Screengrab: Oireachtas TV

A turf war has emerged between two Oireachtas committees examining the RTÉ controversy.

In a letter earlier this month, the chairwoman of the Oireachtas Media Committee warned that there had been “considerable overlap” between it and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth wrote this had resulted in “duplication of witnesses attending, with the same witnesses being invited to attend at two separate committee hearings on the same topic, in some cases, on the same day”.

In the letter to the Committee on Parliamentary Privileges and Oversight, which is considering whether to extend a special dispensation given to PAC to investigate RTÉ, she said two committees concurrently covering the same topic had resulted in “negative public commentary”.


She said her committee was willing to collaborate but argued that PAC’s examination should proceed only following the completion of a report by the media committee.

A media committee source said: “Media is our patch, we’ve been working on these issues [around media and funding of RTÉ] for four years.”

However, it is understood that the media committee has not indicated when it expects to complete its work. A meeting of the privileges committee on Wednesday decided both chairs would be asked to discuss how to collaborate and come up with a proposal to ensure there is no further duplication of work.

“The idea witnesses would come in today before one committee and another tomorrow to answer the same questions is patently ridiculous,” a senior source involved in discussions said, adding that respect for witnesses had to be borne in mind. “The idea everyone goes running after the ambulance is not a good idea.”

PAC chairman Brian Stanley downplayed tensions, saying he wasn’t interested in “any game of tug of war, what I’m interested in is getting procedures and practices and oversight at RTÉ in place”.

Sinn Féin TD Mr Stanley also called on those who received exit packages to waive any confidentiality agreement that was entered into.

A draft report on the scandal under consideration by PAC recommends that RTÉ publish the exact amounts paid out to former members of staff who have departed the broadcaster. The draft also recommends that the Government bring RTÉ back under the statutory remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General, meaning it would face increased scrutiny from the PAC going forward.

Meanwhile, RTÉ has briefed Minister for Media Catherine Martin on legal advice it has received on whether it can disclose more details of the so-called “golden handshakes”. A spokeswoman for Ms Martin said she would not be commenting until after it was published by RTÉ, which was expected soon.

It is expected that a further injection of €20 million of Government funding for RTÉ will go ahead despite recent events and the expected delay in the publication of reports on its culture and corporate governance.

Last year the Government agreed to a €56 million bailout for the crisis-hit broadcaster. Some €16 million was transferred last year with two tranches of €20 million due this year, depending on progress of reforms in RTÉ.

Senior Government sources indicated they expected the recent revelations to worsen the financial crisis at the broadcaster.

It is understood that opposition at the top of Government, especially in the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure, to replace the licence fee with direct exchequer funding remains as strong as ever.

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Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times