‘I cannot remain silent’: Former RTÉ chairwoman hits back at ‘hands-off’ Minister claiming ‘enforced dismissal’

Siún Ní Raghallaigh says she is ‘baffled’ by Catherine Martin’s actions, saying they seem ‘designed to traduce my reputation’

Former RTÉ chairwoman Siún Ní Raghallaigh has defended her actions that led to what she called her “enforced dismissal” by Minister for Media Catherine Martin.

In a strongly-worded statement that is likely to revive political pressure on Ms Martin, Ms Ní Raghallaigh said: “My experience over the past 15 months has been of a Minister actively taking a hands-off approach whilst delegating through her officials.”

The former chair, who resigned after Ms Martin refused to express confidence in her during an RTÉ Prime Time interview, said she had considered RTÉ's exit payment to former chief financial officer (CFO) Richard Collins to be in the past before Ms Martin raised it during two meetings a fortnight ago.

“The questions posed to me in relation to the exit packages from last October were left of field and rehashing an issue that was dealt with. To raise it five months later was and remains baffling to me,” Ms Ní Raghallaigh said.


“If the Minister had decided that she no longer wanted me as chair, that is her privilege. However, I cannot remain silent about the manner of my enforced dismissal which seemed designed to traduce my reputation.”

Ms Ní Raghallaigh said she had only “a handful” of meetings directly with Ms Martin during her 15 months as chairwoman, questioning the Minister’s claim that there was a direct line of communication between the two. “On the whole this took the form of communications with her Department officials,” Ms Ní Raghallaigh said.

Ms Martin has faced heavy Opposition criticism for “summarily” sacking Ms Ní Raghallaigh amid disagreement over whether the Minister had been properly informed that Mr Collins’ exit package had gone through the RTÉ board remuneration committee.

Although the Minister defended her actions at the Oireachtas media committee last week, Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s statement challenges the Minister’s account on several points.

Ms Ní Raghallaigh also criticised Ms Martin for failing to fill RTÉ board vacancies, saying she wrote to the Minister in early August to advise of two looming board departures in September and October and another three in January.

Her aim, she said, was to bring the Minister’s attention to the “urgent need” for skilled directors, prioritising the requirement for expertise in financial and accounting matters.

“Given the difficulties facing the organisation, I found that the reduction in the number of board members and in particular the lack of financial expertise within the board lay heavily on me. However, no appointments were made,” Ms Ní Raghallaigh said.

“For context, this absence of financial acumen on the board was also in addition to the vacancy in the role of CFO in an organisation in deep financial trouble since last July.”

Ms Ní Raghallaigh also gave more information on sequence of events in the course of more than nine hours last Thursday week, on the day of Ms Martin’s Prime Time interview.

Having told the Department in a call shortly after 10am that morning that she forgot to mention the remuneration committee’s involvement in the Collins deal, Ms Ní Raghallaigh said the first response of officials was to relay the Minister’s disappointment and say that would be reflected in a letter to her.

“I asked them to request the Minister not to send the letter because it would not be in the best interests of RTÉ as it would in effect, put this matter, which had been dealt with at the remuneration committee a number of months ago, right back in the arena with no positive purpose and would make my position as chair untenable,” she said.

“It is inaccurate to state anything other than that I told the secretary general of the Department about the decision of the remuneration committee in respect of the Richard Collins case. I have no doubt at all on that matter.”

She continued: “After all, the purpose of the phone call on October 10th 2023 was to report on the outcome of the mediation with Mr Collins’ lawyers the day before as instructed to the remuneration committee and recorded in the minutes. I explained this when asked on Thursday February 22nd and, when pressed, I conceded that I couldn’t possibly know if the detail of my conversation with the secretary general was passed on to the Minister as I was not a party to that conversation but that I would imagine that it had.”

She added: “A different construction is now being put on that, my use of the word ‘imagine’ is now being misrepresented.”

Ms Ní Raghallaigh said she had “really enjoyed” working with director general Kevin Bakhurst and the board “and we were excited about reaching our destination. Over the past 15 months as chair, my work has involved intensive and extensive inputs as the DG and the board worked through a range of matters.

“I hope that this work will continue, and that the DG is supported with a full complement of Board to expediate transformation and reform.”

In a statement on Monday evening, Ms Martin said: “I note the statement of the former chair. Last week, I outlined in detail the position of the Department officials and I on this matter.

“This included taking questions at a three and a half hour meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee and doing statements in the Dáil. Any Minister needs to rely on getting clear, timely and accurate information from the chair of a State body. This is particularly important at such a challenging time in RTÉ's history.

“I would again like to put on record my thanks to the former chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh for her dedication and commitment to RTÉ and public service broadcasting. An important step forward for RTÉ will be taken tomorrow when I seek Government approval for the appointment of a new chair and additional boards members. Upon appointment I will seek to meet the new chair and the director general in the coming days.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times