Siún Ní Raghallaigh challenges Minister’s version of events as new RTÉ chair appointed

Terence O’Rourke set to chair board as row between predecessor and Catherine Martin deepens

Ní Raghallaigh Martin

The Government has been dealt a severe blow in its effort to finally get ahead of the RTÉ crisis after former chair Siún Ní Raghallaigh claimed her “enforced dismissal” was a calculated move by Minister for Media Catherine Martin to “traduce” her reputation.

Hours before Coalition leaders met on Monday night to appoint her successor, Ms Ní Raghallaigh issued an uncompromising statement dismissing Ms Martin’s defence of the live RTÉ Prime Time interview that prompted the chair’s abrupt departure almost a fortnight ago.

She accused the Minister of “actively taking a hands-off approach” to the broadcaster and apparently contradicted some of Ms Martin’s public claims about the frequency of their contacts.

The party leaders later approved Ms Martin’s suggestion to appoint former KPMG managing partner Terence O’Rourke to be the new chairman of the RTÉ board, subject to Cabinet approval on Tuesday.


In remarks that immediately renewed pressure on the Minister, Ms Ní Raghallaigh challenged several of her assertions about the bitter row over RTÉ's severance pay deal last autumn for former chief financial officer Richard Collins.

At issue was Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s inadvertent failure at two meetings with the Minister to recall the Collins deal had gone through the RTÉ board remuneration committee.

That precipitated a breakdown in relations with Ms Martin when the then chair acknowledged board involvement last Thursday week, leading to the television interview in which the Minister declined to express confidence in her.

“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.”

She added that Ms Martin had “not assisted” in the urgent task of arresting the decline in licence fee payment, saying that she had refused to “tell licence payers what to do”.

Ms Ni Raghallaigh’s account was immediately seized on by some Fianna Fáil politicians, with Senators Malcolm Byrne and Timmy Dooley indicating their concerns.

The intervention of the former chair came as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tánaiste Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan met in critical talks in what is the 10th month of crisis in the national broadcaster.

They agreed the appointment of two new board members for RTÉ, due to be announced today, and Mr O’Rourke’s appointment as the new chair, subject to Cabinet approval today.

Mr O’Rourke was chosen ahead of the former Health Service Executive chief executive Paul Reid, who was sounded out by the Government last week. Mr O’Rourke is also currently chair of the ESB, and previously served on the board of The Irish Times.

With new report on major corporate governance lapses at RTÉ due within weeks from Prof Niamh Brennan of UCD, the Government hopes that the appointment of a new chair and board members will help it regain momentum in the drive to overhaul the national broadcaster.

But Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s lengthy statement claimed big failings on the part of the Minister and officials in her department. The former chair in effect said there had been no reason for Ms Martin not to have known of the RTÉ board’s role in the Collins deal before she went on live television to criticise her.

Ms Martin said she noted Ms Ní Raghallaigh’s statement, repeating her assertion that that “any Minister needs to rely on getting clear, timely and accurate information from the chair of a State body”.

Separately, the Public Accounts Committee will on Tuesday publish its report into RTÉ, detailing more than 20 recommendations.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times