Countdown to a resignation: How events leading to RTÉ chair’s departure unfolded

Catherine Martin set out timeline at last Tuesday’s Oireachtas committee hearing of how Siún Ní Raghallaigh’s resignation as chair of RTÉ board arose

On Thursday, February 22nd, Minister for Media Catherine Martin appeared on a pre-arranged Prime Time interview where she failed to express her confidence in then-chair of the RTÉ board Siún Ní Raghallaigh. Hours later, and following months of negotiating a deepening management crisis at Montrose, Ms Ní Raghallaigh had resigned.

That now notorious interview, and subsequent resignation, formed a large part of the following Tuesday night’s hearing before the Oireachtas media committee. Under questioning from Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Murchú, the Minister set out the following events in the build-up that day (all times are approximate). The timeline is further informed by a subsequent statement issued by Ní Raghallaigh.

10am – Siún Ní Raghallaigh placed a phone call to the assistant secretary at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media to say she had inadvertently given the Minister incorrect information regarding the board’s involvement in exit payments during two meetings earlier that week. She had forgotten her role in the approval of packages.

10.07am – Ms Ní Raghallaigh said that, realising she had “inadvertently” given the Minister the wrong information at the end of meetings on the previous Monday and Wednesday, she notified the Department of her wish to make a clarification. “The error was a lapse of memory – nothing more.” She reminded the officials that on October 10th, she had spoken with former secretary general Katherine Licken about what had been approved by the Remuneration Committee in relation to Mr Collin’s exit package.


11am – The Minister was informed. “I was quite taken aback,” she told the committee, adding she would have to write to the chair in light of what she deemed a “significant error”.

2pm – The assistant secretary then contacted Ms Ní Raghallaigh to tell her of the Minister’s concerns and that Ms Martin intended to write her a letter setting out her disappointment. In response, Ms Ní Raghallaigh said she regretted the error but believed she had phoned the department’s former secretary general Katherine Licken last October to say the process had concluded, that former chief financial officer Richard Collins would leave RTÉ and that “she imagined she would have also referred to the role of the board [remuneration committee] in approving it”.

2.30pm – Ms Ní Raghallaigh rang the secretary general expressing her unhappiness at the prospect of receiving a letter from the Minister. She would see that as a lack of confidence and would have to consider her position, the committee heard.

In her statement of events, Ms Ní Raghallaigh said the officials indicated a formal letter would be sent and she asked them to request the Minister not do so as “it would not be in the best interests of RTÉ” and “would make my position as Chair untenable”.

4.30pm – Ms Ní Raghallaigh called the assistant secretary to say RTÉ had received a press query about the role of the remuneration committee in exit packages. The assistant secretary then called former secretary general Katherine Licken to check the information with her. Ms Licken remembered being told by Ms Ní Raghallaigh that a settlement had been reached. She had no recollection of having been told of a role by the remuneration committee.

In her statement, Ms Ní Raghallaigh said she had explained she couldn’t possibly know if the detail of her conversation with the former secretary general had been passed on to the Minister.

6:45pm – There was a call from the secretary general to Ms Ní Raghallaigh saying the Minister had decided to issue a formal letter and to seek a meeting the following morning. She was also reminded Ms Martin was going on Prime Time in a pre-arranged interview and, if asked, she could not conceal the fact of having received the wrong information. Ms Ní Raghallaigh said she was not happy at the prospect of being called to another meeting that week.

7.10pm – The secretary general rang Ms Ní Raghallaigh again and said a letter was deemed important, as was a further meeting.

7.30pm – The letter was sent, two hours before the Prime Time interview.

In clarifying her position, Ms Ní Raghallaigh said the letter was issued to her by the Minister’s private secretary at 7.36pm. A meeting [with the Minister] was later suggested, but only in the context of the overall letter expressing disappointment.

The former chair said she was told the Minister wanted to issue the letter so that, if asked on Prime Time, she could say as much. “It was now apparent that a plan was afoot,” Ms Ní Raghallaigh said. “It began to appear that the letter was as much being dictated by the upcoming Prime Time interview as anything surrounding my clarification about the Collins case.”

9.35pm – Prime Time begins, featuring the interview with the Minister in which she declines to express confidence in the RTÉ chair.

Having watched the segment, Ms Ní Raghallaigh met again with Director General Noel Bakhurst and the company secretary. They agreed she had no option but to resign.

12.45am (Friday) – Following an emergency meeting of the Board a statement was drafted and her resignation letter was emailed to the Minister’s private secretary.

12.48am (Friday) – Ms Ní Raghallaigh announces her resignation as RTÉ chair.

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