RTÉ board members ‘furious, insulted and fed up’ over forced resignation of chair

Row between broadcaster’s board and Catherine Martin over exit payouts deepening following resignation of Siún Ní Raghallaigh

Ní Raghallaigh Martin

RTÉ's board has reacted with anger to the forced resignation of chairwoman Siún Ní Raghallaigh in a deepening row with Minister for Media Catherine Martin over big exit payouts for departing executives.

Independent board directors are said to be “furious, insulted and fed up being played like some sort of a matter of discretion of the Minister’s” after Ms Martin accused Ms Ní Raghallaigh of providing misleading information about a confidential severance payment to former chief financial officer Richard Collins.

Ms Martin’s intervention in a live Thursday night interview on RTÉ's Prime Time programme led the chairwoman to resign within three hours, saying in a statement shortly before 1am that her position was not tenable.

In the middle of a bitter row with the Government over RTÉ's lack of transparency on exit deals for hundreds of thousands of euro each, the Minister’s move was seen by some directors as a push against the entire board.


The organisation has been engulfed in a widening governance crisis since the summer controversy over payments to Ryan Tubridy, prompting a collapse in licence fee income that necessitated a huge Government bailout.

The Opposition was quick to attack Ms Martin for remarks cast as an effective summary dismissal on television. Even though Coalition leaders quickly backed the Minister, the worsening RTÉ crisis has led some senior Government figures to question her judgment.

The RTÉ board held an emergency meeting on Friday afternoon, issuing a statement saying directors were committed to their duty to ensure stability at the top of the station.

Although there was said to be some brief informal discussion on whether the board might resign, directors quickly formed the view that such a move would not make sense.

“The independence of RTÉ is a priority for the board, and that is also a factor in their commitment to the organisation, and to the imperative of public service broadcasting,” the board said.

Ms Ní Raghallaigh said she had inadvertently neglected in two meetings this week to tell the Minister about board approval for the Collins payment but she had corrected the record on Thursday morning. In her resignation statement, she insisted she had “previously appraised” Ms Martin’s department in October.

The RTÉ board remuneration committee swiftly backed the former chairwoman’s account, partially releasing a committee minute as evidence.

The committee said Ms Ní Raghallaigh had contacted the department secretary general “directly by telephone and updated her about the meeting of the remuneration committee, and its outcome – ie, that it approved an agreement with Richard Collins”.

But Ms Martin said Katherine Licken, the department secretary general who retired in January, had “no recollection” of being told that the Collins deal “was approved by the board’s remuneration committee”.

RTÉ directors were said to have disputed Ms Martin’s explanations in sharp terms, arguing her explanations did not stack up. Some were said to have questioned why she would have known in October that Mr Collins received an exit payment “but not that the board approved it”.

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Both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin expressed support for the Minister.

In private, however, many Ministers and senior officials are disturbed at the turn of events and some blame Ms Martin for a needless escalation in the political seriousness of the controversy.

Ms Martin has now placed herself – and the Government – at the centre of events, sources said.

The sense was only emphasised when Oireachtas media committee chairwoman Niamh Smyth wrote to Ms Martin inviting her to come before the committee next Tuesday.

She has said Ms Martin is welcome to bring officials with her to assist her, including Ms Licken. Her role in the affair is now central.

“I’ve actioned and written to the Minister to come before the committee on Tuesday and invited her to bring along her officials and her former secretary general if that will be helpful to her,” Ms Smyth said.

“I am really hopeful this will allow people to move on,” she said.

Opposition parties – several of whom called for the Minister’s resignation on Friday – are also certain to raise the matter in the Dáil next week.

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Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times

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