Subscriber OnlyMedia

Questions the Oireachtas committee should ask Catherine Martin over her response to RTÉ turmoil

Minister faces grilling this evening at a special meeting of the media committee

Minister for Media Catherine Martin faces a grilling over her response to the RTÉ turmoil at a special meeting this evening of the Oireachtas media committee. Here are three questions they should ask the Minister:

Did her department ever question RTÉ about the new responsibilities of the remuneration committee of the RTÉ board?

Martin acknowledged her department received a September letter from RTÉ setting out a new committee mandate. Still, she said the annex setting out the policy change made no reference to exit pay among new committee responsibilities. But the committee was already in focus before the current controversy over huge pay-offs for departing executives. When RTÉ disclosed hidden payments to Ryan Tubridy, it soon transpired that the committee “did not deal with talent pay” to top-earning presenters because it centred on executive pay. This was despite the fact star presenters receive the highest pay in the organisation.

The remuneration committee met infrequently and former RTÉ board chairwoman Moya Doherty missed meetings even though she chaired the panel. Although Doherty attended all three meetings in 2017, she did not attend another meeting of the panel until 2021. She was not at the committee’s single meeting in 2018, nor its only meeting in 2019. The committee did not meet at all in 2020 and met once in 2021, when Doherty did attend.

Given relentless RTÉ turmoil since June, the adoption in September of a new mandate for the remuneration committee was a critical step. One month previously, the new RTÉ director general Kevin Bakhurst had asked legal firm McCann FitzGerald to investigate two exit schemes. That came after former chief financial officer Breda O’Keeffe said she received a severance deal. This meant exit payments were also under scrutiny. If such payments were not listed in September among the new responsibilities of the remuneration panel, was that not an obvious point for the department to raise?

Did Katherine Licken, then secretary general of the department, take a note of an October 10th phone call with Siún Ní Raghallaigh, then RTÉ chairwoman?

Ní Raghallaigh insists she told Licken about the remuneration committee’s involvement in a confidential exit payment to outgoing chief financial officer Richard Collins. However, the Minister says Licken has “no recollection” of being told of the committee’s role. Given the sensitivity over all matters related to RTÉ and the huge burden on the exchequer arising from the need for a Government bailout, wouldn’t it have been best practice for the secretary general to take a detailed note of all engagements with the RTÉ chairwoman?

Questions also arise as to whether Licken should have asked Ní Raghallaigh whether the remuneration committee was involved in the Collins deal if Ní Raghallaigh did not mention it. After all, the department had received RTÉ's September letter setting out the new committee mandate. The very question of the committee’s involvement became critical for the Minister when she met on two occasions last week with Ní Raghallaigh and Bakhurst, meetings at which Ní Raghallaigh said she inadvertently “neglected to recollect” that the Collins deal went before the panel.

Did the department take any action when RTÉ representatives told the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on October 12th that the remuneration committee’s mandate had been widened on September 26th to include ‘exit packages or voluntary exit programmes’ for executives?

The Collins deal was notified to the remuneration panel on October 9th and approved by it one day later, the day of Ní Raghallaigh’s phone call with Licken. The then secretary general was one of the department officials at the PAC meeting.

If Licken had not been told of the remuneration panel’s involvement in the Collins deal two days previously, the question arises as to whether she might have double-checked with the RTÉ chairwoman after the PAC was told of the panel’s new responsibilities.

  • See our new project Common Ground, Evolving Islands: Ireland & Britain
  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here