Former senior official not due to attend Oireachtas committee hearing on RTÉ chair’s resignation

Taoiseach expresses ‘full confidence’ in Minister for Media Catherine Martin as differences remain between accounts given by RTÉ and her department on exit deals for departing executives

Katherine Licken, the former secretary general of the Department of Media, is not scheduled to attend the meeting of the Oireachtas Media Committee discussing the circumstances around the resignation of RTÉ chairwoman Siún Ní Raghallaigh.

The office of the Minister for Media Catherine Martin wrote to the committee on Monday to say it would not be appropriate for Ms Licken to appear.

The letter from the Minister’s office, which has been seen by The Irish Times, referred to the fact that Ms Licken has retired from her position.

“You will appreciate that as she is no longer a staff member of the department it would not be appropriate for her to attend as part of the departmental delegation,” said the Minister’s office.


The department has confirmed that the new secretary general Feargal Ó Coigligh will attend, along with Tríona Quill, assistant secretary, and Stephen Ryan, principal officer.

The committee, chaired by Niamh Smyth, wants to examine the circumstances around Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s resignation in the early hours of last Friday morning and to explore the extent of the knowledge of a change of policy at the broadcaster, which saw the remuneration committee of the main board assume responsibility for signing off on severance packages.

Ms Ní Raghallaigh resigned after Ms Martin refused to express confidence in the RTÉ chairwoman and expressed her disappointment that she had been misinformed about exit packages for RTÉ executives.

There have been divergences in the accounts of who knew about the changes between RTÉ and Ms Ní Raghallaigh on the one hand, and the department on the other.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Monday he has “full confidence” in Ms Martin, saying she had a “difficult job” at the moment, but was “handling her brief extremely well”.

Speaking in Paris ahead of a conference about Ukraine, Mr Varadkar said Ms Martin had felt that she couldn’t fully rely on the information that was being given to her by Ms Ní Raghallaigh.

“I think she was probably in a no-win situation,” he said.

“I know, as a minister who has been in many departments, if you find yourselves in a place where you’re just not fully confident that you’re getting full and accurate information from a chairperson, that makes it very difficult.

“I think the fact that she was on Prime Time the night before really put her in a very difficult situation because if she had answered the questions in a different way, she would have had to change her answers the next day and it just wasn’t an ideal situation.”

Mr Varadkar said that he didn’t feel that it was fair to say that Ms Martin had mishandled the situation.

“Certainly the problems that exist in RTÉ are not of Ms Martin’s making, by any means. She’s been working very hard over the past year to put things right. And we do need to put things right, because RTÉ is a really important institution, in my view,” he said.

“But I think one thing that has to happen in the future is we have to look at funding for public service media and public service broadcasting as being not just about RTÉ any more. There are lots of other people who can do it and they should be allowed to compete for that funding.”

Mr Varadkar said the Government intended to appoint a new chair of the RTÉ board as soon as possible, “certainly if we can do it next week”.

Earlier the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the Minister and her officials will be willing to disclose the level of knowledge within the Department of Arts and Media about a change of policy last autumn in RTÉ on payments to executives leaving the station.

Speaking at an event for thousands of new Irish citizens in the National Concert Hall, Mr Donohoe said he steadfastly supported Ms Martin in her role and performance as Minister.

“In my time working with her in recent years has been a great champion for RTÉ and a great champion for the importance of public service broadcasting,” he said.

“She has always been transparent. She’s always been clear on the issue that she had to deal with last week regarding the relationship between the chair of the board of RTÉ and herself. That was of fundamental importance, so I absolutely support her in her work.”

Mr Donohoe said Ms Martin had received information from Ms Ní Raghallaigh that was “not as accurate as it should be”.

He did not accept a suggestion that it was unwise for her to do the interview on RTÉ Prime Time, in which she refused to express confidence in the chairwoman when asked.

“I do think it’s important that Ministers make themselves available in the hands of the media. If Ms Martin had not been available for the interview to be asked those questions, I’m sure other questions would have been asked of her.”

The Minister said he supported RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst’s moves to change his management team.

“If you are an employer, seeking to make changes in those who work within your organisation, there is rarely an easy way of doing this. Kevin Bakhurst wanted to make significant changes in the management team of RTÉ. And he clearly felt that the best way of doing this was taking the decisions he made in relation to some former members. I support Kevin Bakhurst in his work. I believe he has laid out the plans that are necessary to bring about change in that organisation.”

Asked if the department had questions to answer about the information it shared with the Minister, he said: “Fundamentally, when you are a minister of a department you are accountable for the work of your department.

“You also need your department to share information with you and to work on your behalf on matters that could be sensitive and of interest to the public and the Oireachtas. I’m sure those other questions will be dealt with.”

He said what was important now from a Government perspective was that it continued in its efforts to appoint a new chair of RTÉ.

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Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times